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Threat of Chronic Wasting Disease Plagues Deer Hunting Season

As deer season approaches, hunters in Blair and Bedford counties will have to follow Pennsylvania Game Commission regulations intended to halt the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.

There are currently three Disease Management Areas (DMAs) in Pennsylvania, two of which are on deer farms in Adams and Jefferson counties. The other, in Blair and Bedford counties, is the biggest concern for the commission because it is in the free-ranging population, said Jeannine Fleegle, wildlife biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“[The concern] has expanded over the last year because we have found several new positives,” Fleegle said.

In Blair and Bedford counties, seven deer have tested positive for the disease in the past year, according to Fleegle. Chronic Wasting Disease, which is in the same family of diseases as Mad Cow Disease, affects the brain and nervous system of animals.

When hunting this season, sportsmen must take a number of precautions. The most important regulation, Fleegle said, is that the high-risk parts of deer harvested in the DMAs must stay within that area. Those parts, which are associated with the nervous system, include the brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes and spleen.

“Those parts of the animal need to stay within the DMA,” Fleegle said. “[Hunters] can process the deer outside of the DMA, but those high risk parts need to stay within that area.”

The movement of low-risk parts, including meat without the backbone and the skull plate with attached antlers, is permitted outside of the DMA. Hunters also have the option to process the deer in the area of the state where it was harvested so the high-risk parts can be disposed of.

The meat of a CWD-positive deer is safe to eat, although the game commission advises against it.

The game commission is also prohibiting the use of urine-based lures and feeding in the DMAs.

“This disease is transmissible from animal to animal,” Fleegle said. “We don’t want to have animals congregating and have one animal be infected and spread it to all those other animals as well.”

The disease is not a virus or bacteria; it is a protein infectious particle that can inhabit the brain, nervous system and lymphoid tissues of animals, making it difficult to prevent, according to Fleegle.

“That is the main concern with Chronic Wasting Disease is because it can be transferred from animal to animal, it can infect the environment, and you cannot get rid of these proteins once they are there,” Fleegle said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found no evidence that the disease can be transmitted to humans or domestic animals.