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'Unprecedented' level of chronic wasting disease found on Reynoldsville farm

| Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, 6:51 p.m.

Researchers from around the country are getting to study chronic wasting disease because of an “unprecedented” find.

Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced in April that a 5-year-old captive deer on a farm in Reynoldsville, Jefferson County, tested positive for the disease. Subsequent testing of the deer on the farm found six more with CWD.

That doubled the number of cases in the state, which now stands at 14.

“This is an unprecedented level of infection in a captive deer herd,” agriculture secretary George Greig said.

Researchers are looking at those deer.

Before those deer were “depopulated” — euthanized — researchers from Kansas State University took samples from them. They were distributed to the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary and Wildlife Services and USDA Agricultural Research Services for additional study.

Neither the first Jefferson County deer detected with CWD nor any of the others subsequently found ill exhibited any clinical signs of wasting disease, said Craig Shultz, Pennsylvania's state veterinarian. They were “non-suspect” animals.

The hope is the research being done on their tissues will provide new information about the disease and how to combat it, he said.

“This has provided an opportunity for some unique research to be done,” Shultz said.

An investigation continues into other deer farms that might have purchased or supplied the Reynoldsville herd with deer, Agriculture spokeswoman Samantha Krepps said. In the meantime, the effects of wasting disease continue to be seen in other states.

In West Virginia, the disease showed up in 2006. It was confined to a 15-square-mile area.

Sampling done after this past hunting season by the Division of Natural Resources showed the disease has been spreading annually and now encompasses a 108-square-mile area. The percentage of deer within that zone that are infected is growing, too, the sampling showed.

Things are worse in Wisconsin, the first state east of the Mississippi to detect CWD. According to its Department of Natural Resources, about 8 percent of adult male deer in the “core” CWD zone had the disease in 2002 when it first showed up. Now, almost 25 percent do, according to the latest sampling.

The incidence of the disease also has climbed in adult females and yearling males, the animal most likely to disperse across the landscape and perhaps spread the disease, officials said.

In Wyoming, meanwhile, about 10 percent of mule deer herds typically are infected with CWD, according to the National Deer Alliance. Some localized herds have seen as many as 25 percent of their total animals infected, though, and in one county, a record-high 57 percent were found to be sick in 2011.

When the number of sick adult animals in a herd hits 30 percent of higher, “Hunters there can expect more than a quarter of their herd will be gone soon,” the NDA said.

“This will directly impact what hunters see when they go afield, the annual harvest and ultimately hunter participation and retention. It will in effect change the hunting tradition locally,” the group said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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