Pennsylvania Game Commission Offers Advise As CWD Creeps Closer To Border

Pennsylvania Game Commission Offers Advise As CWD Creeps Closer To Border

Pennsylvania Game Commission
Pennsylvania Game Commission

Pennsylvania –-( While no confirmed cases of Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, have been found in Pennsylvania’s wild deer and elk, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials continue to be concerned about not only “when” it arrives here, but also about how fast it could spread once it does reach the Commonwealth.

“In the past two years, confirmed cases of CWD have moved from 20 miles away from our southern border to just 10 miles away from the Mason-Dixon Line,” said Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian. “It no longer is a discussion about ‘if’ we find CWD within our state, but a matter of “when.’

“With that in mind, we are urging Pennsylvanians who engage in practices like supplemental wildlife feeding, placement of salt and the use of urine-based lures to consider voluntarily discontinuing these activities as they are known to increase the risk of introduction and spread of the disease. We also urge hunters who may hunt in Maryland, West Virginia or any other state that has the disease to become familiar with and observe our CWD Parts Ban, which is outlined in the annual hunting digest and on the agency’s website.”

Specifically, Cottrell said that feeding of wildlife, especially deer, along the Maryland/Pennsylvania border from Bedford to York counties should be discontinued or, at least, confined to bird feeding.

“Feeding wildlife, especially deer, causes a higher concentration of the animals in one area,” Cottrell said. “Since the disease can be spread from one animal to another through direct animal-to-animal contact or indirectly from animal-to-animal through a contaminated environment, feeding would make the spread of the disease easier should an infected animal come into a feeding area.

“We recognize that people enjoy viewing wildlife. However, if feeding is something that could contribute to the spread of this disease, we would hope that those who enjoy seeing wildlife will assist us in our efforts to prevent the introduction of CWD and contain it as best we can after it is found within our state’s borders.”

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 of the nervous system. Scientists theorize CWD is caused by an agent called a prion that is capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form, in turn causing the death of brain cells.

There currently is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, nor is there a vaccine. Clinical signs include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, and, ultimately, death. There is currently no scientific evidence that CWD has or can spread to humans, either through contact with infected animals or by eating meat of infected animals. The Center for Disease Control has investigated any connection between CWD and the human forms of TSEs and stated “the risk of infection with the CWD agent among hunters is extremely small, if it exists at all” and “it is extremely unlikely that CWD would be a food-borne hazard.”

Cottrell noted that hunters, especially those who plan to head off to hunt big game in other states and Canadian provinces, can play a role in preventing the unintentional introduction or spread of CWD in Pennsylvania.

“The Game Commission prohibits the importation of specific carcass parts from members of the deer family – including mule deer, elk and moose – from a growing list of states and Canadian provinces,” Cottrell said. He noted that this importation ban applies to hunters heading to: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland (only from CWD containment area), Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York (Oneida and Madison counties), North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia (only from CWD containment area), West Virginia (only from the containment area), Wisconsin and Wyoming; as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“Under an executive order, hunters are prohibited from bringing back the certain tissue below from any cervid from these states or provinces, whether the animal was taken from the wild or from a captive, high-fence operation,” Cottrell said.

The specific carcass parts that cannot be brought back to Pennsylvania by hunters are the ones where the CWD prions (the causative agent) concentrate in cervids, and they are: the head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and any lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft tissue is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue; unfinished taxidermy mounts; and brain-tanned hides.

Cottrell noted that the prohibition does not limit the importation of: meat, without the backbone; cleaned skull plate with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord tissue present; cape, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft tissue is present; and finished taxidermy mounts.

Pennsylvania hunters heading to a state with a history of CWD should become familiar with that state’s wildlife regulations and guidelines for the transportation of harvested game animals.

Wildlife officials have suggested hunters in areas where CWD is known to exist follow these usual recommendations to prevent the possible spread of disease:

  • Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that appears sick; contact the state wildlife agency if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.
  • Wear rubber or latex gloves when field-dressing carcasses.
  • Bone out the meat from your animal.
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
  • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field-dressing is completed.
  • Request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal, or process your own meat if you have the tools and ability to do so.
  • Have your animal processed in the endemic area of the state where it was harvested, so that high-risk body parts can be properly disposed of there. Only bring permitted materials back to Pennsylvania.
  • Don’t consume the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils or lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field-dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will help remove remaining lymph nodes.)
  • Consider not consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.

Cottrell urged hunters who harvest a deer, elk or moose in a state or province where CWD is known to exist should follow that state’s wildlife agency’s instructions on how and where to submit the appropriate samples to have their animal tested. If, after returning to Pennsylvania, a hunter is notified that his or her game tested positive for CWD, the hunter is encouraged to immediately contact the Game Commission for disposal recommendations and assistance.

In 2005, Pennsylvania CWD task force members completed the state’s response plan, which outlines ways to prevent CWD from entering our borders and, in the event CWD is found in Pennsylvania, how to detect it and contain it. The task force was comprised of representatives from several state and federal agencies, including the Game Commission, the state departments of Agriculture, Health and Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as representatives from stakeholder groups including hunters, deer farmers, deer processors and taxidermists. The plan is updated annually, and the current plan can be viewed on the Game Commission’s website ( by putting your cursor on “Wildlife” in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, then put your cursor on “Wildlife Diseases” from the drop-down menu, and then clicking on “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).” This page also includes links to tips for taxidermists and meat processors, as well as the CWD Alliance’s website (

Information on CWD also was published on pages 49 and 52 of the 2010-11 Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest, which is presented to each license buyer. The agency plans to include this and new information about CWD in the 2011-12 digest, which will be available in mid-June.