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Deer at Lancaster County farm, 2 deer at Blair County farm test positive for chronic wasting disease

chronic wasting disease

HARRISBURG — A deer at a farm in West Cocalico Township, Lancaster County is one of three captive deer that have tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The three new positive tests bring the total number of deer who have tested positive in the Commonwealth since the disease was discovered here in 2012 to 49, the Department of Agriculture says.

In addition to the positive test at the West Cocalico farm, the disease was confirmed in two other captive white-tailed deer on a small hobby farm in Greenfield Township, Blair County — marking the first time captive deer in Blair County have tested positive. The farm is now under quarantine, the Department of Agriculture says.

The deer found in West Cocalico Township was part of a herd that was euthanized after a deer tested positive there in February. It was the only positive test result among the 36 deer tested in the herd, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The department’s Pennsylvania Veterinary Laboratory in Harrisburg tested the deer, which were later confirmed positive at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. The deer were tested as required by the department’s CWD program. Deer cannot be moved on or off these properties without permission from the department.

CWD attacks the brain of infected deer, elk and moose, producing small lesions that eventually result in death. Animals can get the disease through direct contact with saliva, feces and urine from an infected animal or contaminated environment.

Clinical signs include weight loss, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, and abnormal behavior like stumbling, trembling, and depression. Infected deer and elk may also allow unusually close approach by humans or natural predators. The disease is fatal and there is no known treatment or vaccine.

The infectious agent, known as a prion, tends to concentrate in the brain, spinal column, eyes, spleen, and lymph nodes. These high-risk parts must be properly handled and disposed of at the harvest location to prevent disease spread. Low-risk parts such as deboned meat, clean skull caps and capes present little risk and may be taken home. 

The first cases of CWD in Pennsylvania were detected in white-tailed deer that died in 2012 on an Adams County deer farm, and wild, white-tailed deer in Blair and Bedford Counties.