With chronic wasting disease, facts as scary as the unknown
TribLIVE Sports Videos
As I pulled in at 7:05 p.m. — five minutes late, given some confusing directions — the parking lot at Cove Middle School was jam-packed.
Every available space was taken. The words “no parking” painted in white on the blacktop adjacent to the sidewalks were covered by, yes, parked vehicles. Drivers had carved out landing spots elsewhere by putting two tires on the driveway, two in the grass.
Inside the auditorium it was standing-room only.
It was a predominantly male crowd. There were camo ballcaps and jackets sprinkled through every row of seats. Flannel shirts and hoodies emblazoned with images of deer filled in the gaps.
A TV reporter, conspicuous in her bright pink overcoat, looked like the only one in the room whose boots hadn't stepped on an acorn or deer poop in the woods since fall.
All those folks were there to hear Pennsylvania Game Commission officials talk about the discovery of chronic wasting disease in the state's wild deer herd.
It appeared in Pennsylvania for the first time last October in a farm-raised deer in Adams County. Subsequent testing found it in three hunter-killed deer — two in Blair County and one in Bedford — taken in the firearms deer season.
Now, it's likely here to stay.
“There are two things this disease does when it arrives: It gets worse, and it spreads,” commission wildlife veterinarian Walt Cottrell said.
That was about as upbeat as his presentation got.
The mysteries surrounding wasting disease are numerous and great, Cottrell said. No one knows whether it developed spontaneously, evolved from scrapie in sheep — even though it has no DNA or RNA and shouldn't be able to — or arose otherwise. No one's developed a vaccine to prevent it, a medicine to treat it or a live animal test for it. No one's figured out how to get rid of it once established, either.
All that, and what's known about the disease might be worse.
The prions that carry it can be spread by a deer for months or years before it dies. They become 700 times more potent when they bond to soil through feces or saliva. They can be destroyed in a lab by heating them to 2,500 degrees for 15 minutes, but in the wild they're “indestructible,” Cottrell added.
“It's a little like science fiction, but it's real,” he said.
It was only a matter of time until the disease cropped up here. Like an obese man who smokes, drinks to excess, feasts on fatty foods and shuns exercise, Pennsylvania has been a CWD heart attack waiting to happen.
It's long had all of the risk factors: proximity to other states with the disease; rules allowing the feeding and baiting of deer; a concentration of captive deer farms; and rules allowing hunters to use deer urine, among other things, Cottrell said.
That will almost surely mean fewer deer going forward. That's what every other state with the disease has experienced, Cottrell said.
The Game Commission has established disease management areas in an attempt to limit that. Whether they will make a difference is one more riddle yet unanswered, said Cal DuBrock, director of its bureau of wildlife management.
“But I guess in Pennsylvania, we're going to find out.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.