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Food Safety Experts Urge Caution For Hunters In Areas With Fatal Deer Disease

Emma Lee
A doe looks up from grazing in a meadow at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum where a newly initiated bow hunting season is being used to introduce the sport of hunting to those who have never tried it.

Ahead of the start of rifle deer season this Saturday, some hunters are concerned about deer infected with chronic wasting disease.

The disease affects the brain and nervous system of infected deer, elk, and moose.

It’s been found across a large swath of south-central Pennsylvania, prompting the state Game Commission to set up special management areas for the fatal disease.

Food safety experts say hunters need to take precautions when handling their harvest.

There haven’t been any known human cases of chronic wasting disease, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people do not eat meat from animals that test positive.

Martin Bucknavage, a food safety expert with Penn State Extension, said hunters need to be aware if they are hunting within one of the state’s disease management areas, or DMAs, and should follow the Game Commission’s guidelines.

DMA 2 is the largest and includes all or parts of Adams, Cumberland, Franklin, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, and Snyder counties. DMA 4 covers portions of Berks, Lancaster and Lebanon counties.

Bucknavage said hunters should always wear rubber gloves when field-dressing a deer and minimize handling the high-risk parts, which includes the brain, spinal cord, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes. Those high-risk parts must be dropped in disposal dumpsters set up by the Game Commission before a hunter leaves the DMA.

Hunters should also thoroughly wash their hands and tools afterward.

Bucknavage encourages all hunters in the DMAs to get their deer tested for chronic wasting disease, which he said will help the state track and stop the disease.

The Game Commission offers free testing of deer taken in a DMA. Hunters can drop the deer’s head, with a completed harvest tag affixed to the deer’s ear, in a designated container.