PA Game Commission Prepares To Collect Samples For CWD Testing
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- While there are no known cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, joined by veterinarians and laboratory technicians from the Pennsylvania and U.S. Departments of Agriculture, will continue its efforts tomorrow to sample thousands of hunter-killed deer to test for CWD.
"Currently, there are no confirmed or suspected cases of CWD-infected deer or elk in Pennsylvania, and we are doing what we can to ensure that it stays that way," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "We are planning to collect samples from 4,000 hunter-killed deer to test for CWD in the upcoming firearms deer season. Last year, we tested samples from more than 4,200 deer. CWD was not detected in any of the samples."
Game Commission deer aging teams will collect deer heads throughout the state beginning Tuesday, Dec. 1 - the second day of the state's two-week rifle deer season. The heads will be taken to the six Game Commission Region Offices, where samples will be collected for testing.
The CWD tests on these deer samples will be conducted at the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary diagnostic laboratory at the New Bolton Center in Chester County. Results are expected in 2010.
The Game Commission collected liver, lung and blood samples from the 43 elk harvested. The Game Commission also collected brain tissue and lymph node samples from elk that were not to be mounted, and requested that taxidermists submit the caped heads from elk provided by hunters seeking to have their trophies mounted. Elk hunters were provided pre-paid mailers for taxidermists to submit the samples. All elk samples will be tested for CWD at the New Bolton Center as well.
Under a contract with Penn State University, samples also will be tested for bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis. With funding from the state's Animal Health Diagnostic Commission, the Game Commission and Penn State also are examining liver samples for nutritional mineral and heavy metal content, as elk frequently graze on reclaimed strip mines.
Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, said the agency will release the elk and deer test results as soon as they are available.
The Game Commission, with the assistance of the Pennsylvania and U.S. Departments of Agriculture, has conducted tests on more than 300 elk and more than 22,000 deer killed by hunters in Pennsylvania over the past six years. Since 1998, more than 600 deer and elk that have died of unknown illness or were exhibiting abnormal behavior also have been tested. No evidence of CWD has been found in these samples. The Game Commission will continue to collect samples from deer and elk that appear sick or behave abnormally.
Even though CWD had not been detected in Pennsylvania, CWD testing of healthy appearing hunter-killed deer or elk is available through the New Bolton Center. Hunters who wish to have their deer tested may do so for a fee by making arrangements with the New Bolton Center Laboratory (610-444-5800).
First identified in 1967, CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) that affects cervids, including all species of deer, elk and moose. It is a progressive and always fatal disease, which scientists believe is caused by an agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form.
There currently is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, and there is no vaccine to prevent an animal from contracting the disease. There is no cure for animals that become infected. There is no evidence of CWD being transmissible to humans or to other non-cervid livestock under normal conditions.
Deer harboring CWD may not show any symptoms in the disease's early stages. The usual incubation period for CWD is between 12-24 months. Commonly observed signs of an infected animal include lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, weakness, and ultimately, death.
Hunters who see deer behaving oddly, that appear to be sick, or that are dying for unknown reasons are urged to contact the nearest Game Commission Region Office. Hunters should not kill or consume animals that appear to be sick.
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