Article examines chronic wasting disease in Pa. deer, whether it could spread to humans |

Article examines chronic wasting disease in Pa. deer, whether it could spread to humans

Renatta Signorini
Jeannine Fleegle, left, a state wildlife biologist, and Helen Schlemmer, a wildlife biologist aide, analyze deer heads provided by a Carnegie, Pa., deer processor during the state’s annual rifle hunting season. MUST CREDIT: Jason Bittel.

With Western Pennsylvania as its backdrop, the Washington Post recently examined chronic wasting disease in deer and the possibility that it could spread to humans.

The article, published Friday, visits Allegheny and Westmoreland counties while chronicling the steps Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife biologists are taking to track the the fatal disease. A wildlife biologist worked in the northeastern Westmoreland County town of Bolivar to collect the brain stems of deer harvested during rifle season for further testing.

Chronic wasting disease affects members of the deer family, including whitetail, mule deer, moose and elk. The disease, which is progressive and always fatal, causes weight loss and behavioral changes in animals before ultimately leading to their death.

It is spread from animal-to-animal through saliva, blood, urine and feces.

The article examined whether the disease could jump to humans through consumption of deer meat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises hunters not to eat any meat from a deer that tests positive for chronic wasting disease. The agency advises hunters to have their deer tested if it was harvested from an area where the disease has been found.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is working on a disease management plan to address the issue.

Of the 250 free-ranging whitetails confirmed to have chronic wasting disease in the state since 2012, 91% have come from three counties in what is classified as a disease management area in the southcentral part of the state: Bedford (122), Fulton (66) and Blair (41). Special rules govern how hunters can hunt and what they can do with the deer they harvest in those designated areas.

One of those areas is expanding to include part of Westmoreland County.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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