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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)       

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) affects the brain and nervous system of infected cervids (deer, elk and moose) eventually resulting in death.

Current Status:

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected in three locations in Pennsylvania: a captive deer farm in Adams County (fall 2012 (PDF)); free-ranging deer in Blair and Bedford counties (2012 firearms season (PDF)); and a captive deer farm in Jefferson county (spring 2014 (PDF)). Following the detection of CWD in both captive and free-ranging deer in Pennsylvania, an executive order (PDF) was issued by the Game Commission to establish Disease Management Areas (DMAs). Within DMAs, rehabilitation of cervids (deer, elk and moose); the use or possession of cervid urine-based attractants in an outdoor setting; the removal of high-risk cervid parts; and the feeding of wild, free-ranging cervids are prohibited. Increased testing continues in these areas to determine the distribution of the disease. Newly confirmed cases will alter the boundaries of DMAs as the Game Commission continues to manage the disease and minimize its affect on free ranging cervids.
 

Frequently Asked Questions:

To learn more about chronic wasting disease, and precautions in place to limit its influence on Pennsylvania's wild deer populations, please explore the following:

For Hunters

There are two DMAP (Deer Management Assistance Program) units in DMA 2 for which hunters can apply for antlerless deer permits beginning at midnight on June 19, through the automated license sales system. The North Unit contains portions of southern Blair County and northwestern Bedford County. The South Unit contains eastern Bedford County and most of Fulton County. Although these DMAP permits can be used on public and private lands within the appropriate DMAP unit, hunters must receive permission from private landowners prior to hunting.

 

For Taxidermists & Processors        

If you are presented with a deer or elk harvested in CWD-infected areas, please contact the nearest Game Commission region office for guidance. A Game Commission representative may collect tissues, provide proper processing and disposal procedures, and supply information to educate hunters. Additional information is available for processors and taxidermists.
 

What is CWD?

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers can be found further down the page.

CWD in Pennsylvania        

 

*Resources:

Captive Cervid Breeding Fact Sheet (The Wildlife Society) (PDF)

It is unlawful to remove deer from any DMA unless it is being taken to an approved location. Businesses listed here that are outside DMA 2 have been approved to receive deer carcasses from within DMA 2.

Cooperating Processors in DMA 2 (Updates Ongoing) 

Cooperating Taxidermists in DMA 2 (Updates Ongoing)      


It is unlawful to remove deer from any DMA unless it is being taken to an approved location. Businesses listed here that are outside the DMA 3 have been approved to receive deer carcasses from within the DMA 3.

Cooperating Processors in DMA 3 (Updates Ongoing)      

Cooperating Taxidermists in DMA 3 (Updates Ongoing)


Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a member of the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) family of diseases that includes Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease in cattle; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans; and Scrapie in sheep and goats. It was first recognized in Colorado deer and elk in 1967. The specific cause of CWD is believed to be an abnormal prion (protein infectious particle) that is found in the brain, the nervous system, and some lymphoid tissues of infected animals. It causes death of brain cells and, on a microscopic level, holes in the brain tissue.

What animals get CWD?
CWD has been diagnosed in white-tailed deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer and hybrids thereof, as well as elk, red deer, and moose. The Centers for Disease Control reports that there is no strong evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans. It is recommended that meat from CWD-positive animals not be consumed.

Is CWD dangerous to humans?
There is no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans or traditional livestock. However, it is recommended that meat from CWD-positive animals not be consumed.

Where has CWD been found?
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected in three locations in Pennsylvania: a captive deer farm in Adams County (fall 2012 (PDF)); free-ranging deer in Blair and Bedford counties (2012 - 2014 firearms season (PDF)); and a captive deer farm in Jefferson county (spring 2014 (PDF)). In addition, CWD has been in wild or captive deer and/or elk in many other states and provinces. The agency maintains a current map of Disease Management Areas (DMAs).

How is CWD spread?
CWD is transmitted both directly through animal-to-animal contact and indirectly through food and soil contaminated with bodily excretions including feces, urine and saliva. Contaminated carcasses or high-risk carcass parts may also spread the disease indirectly through environmental contamination, which last for decades.

Why should I stop feeding deer?        
Because any concentration of deer or elk assists in the spread of diseases, immediately stop supplemental feeding programs. For more information, read Please Don't Feed the Deer (PDF).

What is being done to manage CWD in Pennsylvania?
Several state and federal agencies, including the Game Commission, Pennsylvania departments of Agriculture (PDA), Health (PDH), and Environmental Protection (DEP), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) completed a response plan which details methods of prevention, surveillance and response designed to manage CWD. Activities designed to reduce the risks associated with this disease are ongoing. Surveillance for CWD and other diseases has been ongoing in Pennsylvania since 1998 and will continue in order to understand the prevalence and distribution of the disease.

How can I tell if a deer or elk has CWD?
Animals infected with CWD do not show signs of infection for 12 or more months. Late stage symptoms of CWD-infected animals include an extreme loss of body condition; excessive drinking, urination, salivation and drooling; and behavioral and neurologic changes such as repetitive walking patterns, droopy ears, a wide-based stance and listlessness. Some animals lose their fear of humans and predators. There is no known cure. It is important to note that these symptoms are characteristic of diseases other than CWD.

What should I do if I see a deer or elk displaying signs that suggest CWD?
If you see a deer or elk that you believe is sick, do not disturb or attempt to kill or remove the animal. Accurately document the location of the animal and immediately contact the nearest Game Commission region office.

What are high-risk carcass parts?
High-risk carcass parts, where the CWD prion (causative agent) concentrates are: head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and all lymph nodes); spinal cord; spleen; upper canine teeth, if root structure is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord material; unfinished taxidermy mounts or brain-tanned hides.

Why are there restrictions on the movement of high-risk parts?
Although CWD has been detected in both captive and free ranging deer, the Game Commission's goal continues to be to prevent further introductions of CWD into our state and to prevent spread within the state. The movement of high-risk carcass parts (brain, spinal cord, lymphoid tissues) is a potential avenue through which CWD could be spread. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have developed regulations to prohibit the importation of high-risk carcass parts from CWD endemic states and provinces. Pennsylvania's importation ban (PDF)prohibits the importation of high-risk carcass parts from these areas. Those hunting within Pennsylvania's CWD-positive areas are also subject to high-risk parts movement restrictions (PDF). These parts may not be removed from the designated Disease Management Areas (DMAs).

What carcass parts are safe to move?
Pennsylvania's high-risk carcass parts ban does not limit the importation of: meat, without the backbone; skull plate with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord material present; cape, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure is present; or finished taxidermy mounts. These same parts may be moved out of Pennsylvania's DMAs.

What precautions should hunters take?
Hunters should only harvest animals that appear healthy, and take common-sense precautions like wearing gloves while field dressing an animal and washing hands and equipment thoroughly when finished. Hunters in areas where CWD is known to exist should follow these guidelines to prevent the spread of the disease:

  • Do not shoot, handle or consume an animal that appears sick.
  • Wear rubber or nitrile gloves when field dressing.
  • Bone out the meat from your animal.
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
  • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing.
  • Ask your deer processor to process your meat individually or process your own meat.
  • Have your animal processed in the area of the state where it was harvested so high-risk body parts can be properly disposed of. It is illegal to take high-risk parts listed in the Cervid Parts Importation Ban (PDF) out of any Pennsylvania DMA.
  • Do not import high-risk parts from other states where CWD is known to exist. High-risk parts are described in the Cervid Parts Importation Ban (PDF).
  • Transport out of any Pennsylvania DMA, or bring back to Pennsylvania only low-risk parts: meat without the backbone, skull plate with attached antlers if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present, tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord material present, cape if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present upper canine teeth if no root structure or other soft material is present, and finished taxidermy mounts. If you plan to hunt in CWD-positive areas, and want to avoid transporting parts that are banned, take a moment to view this video.
  • Don't consume high-risk parts. 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 remove remaining lymph nodes.
  • Have your animal tested, and do not consume meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.

What if I harvest a deer within a DMA?

  • If you harvest a deer within the DMA, proceed with these options in handling high-risk parts:
  • Take your deer to any processor or taxidermist located within the DMA. You may also take your deer to any processor, taxidermist or disposal site that is approved for that DMA.
  • If you live within that DMA, you may take the deer home, cut it up, double bag the high-risk parts, and set them out for a commercial refuse pickup.
    If you are hunting at a farm located within that DMA, you may bone the deer out on the property, double bag the high-risk parts, and ask the farmer to set out the bags for commercial refuse pickup.
  • The least preferred option, though lawful, is to bone out the deer in the woods and leave the high-risk parts in the field.

Where can I have my deer tested?
Hunters can submit their harvested deer to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) for testing.

Is the meat of a CWD positive deer safe to eat?
There is no evidence that under natural conditions CWD affects any species other than those in the deer family. However, as a precaution, hunters are advised to not eat meat from animals known to be infected with CWD.

What if I harvest a deer with evidence of being ear tagged?
Hunters should immediately notify the nearest Game Commission region office if their harvested deer has evidence of being tagged; this could be actual ear tags, torn ears, or holes in the ears. This may indicate an escape from a captive cervid facility.

What if I hunt in an area affected by CWD?        
Hunters should continue to enjoy deer and elk hunting in Pennsylvania. However, with the discovery of CWD, hunters should become familiar with the restrictions in any Executive Order (PDF) for any designated Disease Management Area (DMA) such as prohibitions on feeding and rehabilitation of deer, the use of urine-based lures, and transportation out of the DMA of specific cervid carcass parts. If you plan to hunt in another state where CWD has been found, contact that state's wildlife agency for guidance and be aware that Pennsylvania has a Cervid Parts Importation Ban (PDF)for these areas.

What if I'm hunting outside Pennsylvania?
Hunters traveling outside of Pennsylvania should consult State and Province CWD Regulations (CWDA*). Most have up-to-date information on the status of CWD in their state or province on their websites. The Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance is also a reliable online resource. Be aware that Pennsylvania has a Cervid Parts Importation Ban (PDF) for some areas. 


What can you do as a meat processor to prevent the spread of CWD?
Determine if the cervid carcass presented to you is from a CWD-positive state or area, including Pennsylvania's DMAs.

  1. If the cervid carcass IS NOT from a CWD-positive state or area:
    1. Wear latex or rubber gloves when processing the carcass.
    2. Bone the carcass to minimize cutting into high-risk parts.
    3. Avoid cutting into the backbone, either lengthwise or across the spine.
    4. Dispose of butcher waste through the trash, or in food waste dumpsters intended for regulated landfills.
  2. If the cervid carcass IS from a CWD-positive state or area:
    1. If high-risk parts are present, contact your Game Commission region office for disposal procedures.
    2. If no high-risk parts are present proceed according to the recommendations in item 1a. and 1b. above.
    3. Thoroughly clean hands and processing tools with soap and water; then sanitize tools in a solution of 50 percent household chlorine bleach and 50 percent water for one hour.
    4. Keep all cervid meat and meat products from CWD-positive or suspect animals separated from other meat.
    5. CWD-positive meat or waste should not be rendered, burned in burn barrels, deposited in bone piles or spread in areas where it can come in contact with other animals. Contact your Game Commission region office with questions.

What can you do as a taxidermist to prevent the spread of CWD?
Determine if the specimen presented to you is from a CWD-positive state or area, including Pennsylvania's DMAs.

  1. If the specimen IS NOT from a CWD-positive state or area (including Pennsylvania DMAs):
    1. Wear latex or rubber gloves when working on the specimen.
    2. Thoroughly clean hands and taxidermy tools with soap and water; then sanitize tools in a solution of 50 percent household chlorine bleach and 50 percent water for one hour.
    3. Dispose of carcass parts through the trash, or in food waste dumpsters intended for regulated landfills.
    4. Do not allow animals to have access to your taxidermy area or taxidermy waste.
  2. If the specimen IS from a CWD-positive state or area (including Pennsylvania DMAs) AND if high-risk parts are present (such as whole head with cape and alters or whole carcass):
    1. Notify the local  Game Commission region office.
    2. After receiving authorization from the Game Commission, the taxidermist may cape out the head and remove the antlers being careful to remove all visible brain and spinal cord material from the skull cap and cape.
    3. Wear latex or rubber gloves when working on the specimen.
    4. Thoroughly clean hands and taxidermy tools with soap and water; then sanitize tools in a solution of 50 percent household chlorine bleach and 50 percent water for one hour.
    5. CWD-positive meat or waste should not be rendered, burned in burn barrels, deposited in bone piles or spread in areas where it can come in contact with other animals. Contact your Game Commission region office with questions.
    6. Do not allow animals to have access to your taxidermy area or taxidermy waste.