BROOKVILLE — Andrea Korman said Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) “is an incurable, always fatal brain disease” found in the cervid species. In Pennsylvania, that includes white-tailed deer and elk.
Korman has been a CWD biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission since 2019. Prior to that she held a number of wildlife positions, monitoring and managing species from alligators in Texas to bighorn sheep in Colorado. She talked about the history and efforts to control the disease as the guest speaker at Penn State Extension Jefferson County’s annual dinner meeting.
She said many cases have been reported in the deer population “but fortunately our elk don’t have it yet.”
CWD is a contagious disease that can be contracted “by direct animal to animal contact. Currently there is no vaccine, no treatment of any kind,” Korman said. “There is also no immunity.”
She said the first documented case of CWD was in Colorado in 1967. In 2002 “it crossed the Mississippi River” and is now found in 30 states and four Canadian provinces.
Korman said state wide testing for CWD began in Pennsylvania in 2003, although the first case was not detected in Pennsylvania until 2012, in Adams County in a captive service facility. “We were looking for it a long time before we actually found it.” A few months later free ranging, hunter-harvested deer with CWD were found in Blair and Bedford counties. “With the distance between them, they are not necessarily related. It is hard to say how CWD got into Pennsylvania. In 2014 there were two reports in Jefferson County.”
She said the Game Commission is trying to minimize the spread of the disease in the state. “Any time we find a detection we put a DMA (Disease Management Area) around it, trying to “limit the risk of human-assisted spread of the disease,” she said. There are currently seven DMAs in Pennsylvania.
“We are seeing more hunters harvest multiple positive deer.” She said there are several strategies being implemented in the DMAs “to lower the risk of spread, lower the risk of transmission.” Some of the strategies include a ban on feeding deer. “It is illegal to feed deer in a DMA,” she said. “There is also a ban on the use of urine based attractants. There is no regulation requiring captive facilities to test these urine products, so they could contain CWD.”
Another strategy is banning the movement of high-risk parts of harvested deer, including the head, lymph nodes spleen and spinal cord.
Korman said reducing deer abundance in affected areas “is currently the best tool we have.” At the same time “we are trying to come up with ways to let hunters take more deer.”
Answering questions from the audience, Korman said “there is no specific evidence of people getting it, but CWD is a serious threat to a cherished public resource in Pennsylvania and the Game Commission is doing everything we can to try to manage that public threat. We are using every tool we have to keep CWD from spreading.”
Anyone wanting more information about Chronic Wasting Disease can visit the Game Commission’s webpage at firstname.lastname@example.org.