Chronic wasting disease what hunters in Pennsylvania should know ahead of firearm hunting season

PENNSYLVANIA, Pa. (WTAJ) – As the regular firearms hunting season is scheduled to begin across Pennsylvania on Saturday, November 26, the state wildlife commission is warning and informing hunters of an ongoing neurological disease that is killing members of the deer family.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been reported in at least 29 states in the United States and two provinces in Canada, according to the CDC. The disease was first identified in 2012 at a captive white-tailed deer facility in Adams County, Pennsylvania. 10 years later, CWD is reported in captive and free-ranging deer in 14 counties across the state.

As hunters prepare to enter the state’s forests and wildlife areas, this is where the disease is currently being found and what is being done to combat the disease.

What is a disease management area?

The Pennsylvania Game Commission and other state and federal agencies designate a Disease Management Area (DMA) where CWD was found. The area is also being used to prevent its spread through regulations and testing.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, as of 2022 there are six active DMAs in the state and one established area where CWD has been present for some time.

What hunters are allowed to do in a DMA

Hunters intending to take a deer in a DMA are prohibited from the following activities:

  • Feed wild game: CWD can be spread through saliva. Animals congregating at an artificial feeding station increase the risk of spreading the disease.
  • Do you use or own deer urine based attractants for hunting: The urine could contaminate the environment or attract infected animals to the area.
  • Remove risky deer parts: Various body parts of a deer that have been either harvested or killed, including vehicle accidents, cannot be removed by a state DMA or transferred to an outlying state or province. This is to prevent the disease from spreading to other Pennsylvania counties as well as other states.
Diagram of high risk deer parts provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

For more information on high-risk parts and other restrictions, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission website.

Where can hunters test their deer for CWD?

Hunters who take a deer in a DMA should have it tested for the disease. The stag’s head can be deposited in what the Game Commission calls a head collection box, together with a finished harvest tag attached to its ear. Dumpsters are also available at DMAs to dispose of any high-risk parts from a deer carcass.

Hunters will be notified when their deer has been submitted for testing and if it has tested positive for CWD. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the test typically lasts 2 weeks.

The results of the CWD tests can be found using an online lookup tool. A list of Head collection bins and high-risk parts dumpsters located in DMAs can be found here.

Can CWD be transmitted to humans?

Though the disease isn’t known to infect humans, the Pennsylvania Game Commission says it could still affect people in other ways. People who eat venison from an infected deer could get sick. The Game Commission draws attention to an incident of mad cow disease that occurred in England in 1992 because spoiled beef entered the food supply chain.

There is currently no treatment, vaccine, or cure for CWD. The CDC is currently investigating whether the disease could pose a risk to humans.

Further studies are underway to determine whether prion diseases could be more common in individuals at increased risk from exposure to potentially CWD-infected deer or elk meat. Because of the long time it takes for any symptoms of the disease to appear, the scientists believe the study will take many years before they can determine what, if any, risk CWD poses to people.

Statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What should hunters do when they see a sick deer?

Anyone who has bagged a sick deer can contact the Regional Office of the Wildlife Commission for more information.

Hunters who encounter a deer they suspect may be ill with CWD are asked to harvest if they have the opportunity and a license. The Pennsylvania Game Commission encourages hunters to provide them with sick deer for testing. Hunters receive a replacement harvest token for each stag given to the Game Commission.