Deer at Bedford farm test positive for CWD

State euthanizes 215 deer after 27 found to have chronic wasting disease

State Department of Agriculture officials have discovered chronic wasting disease in 27 deer on a Bedford County farm, in what is by far the largest single case so far in the state.

The department euthanized the entire herd — 215 deer total — in June after the discovery, in an attempt to prevent the spread of the deadly disease. Officials did not identify the farm by name in a Friday news release.

The discovery comes months after officials first quarantined the farm in February, following a deer’s death. That deer’s remains later tested positive for chronic wasting disease, a contagious brain illness that kills every deer it affects.

Officials killed the entire herd after that, and later testing revealed 27 had the disease.

The discovery more than triples the number of confirmed cases in captive Pennsylvania deer since 2012: Only 13 cases in captive deer were identified before this month.

Chronic wasting disease is not believed to affect humans, although wildlife experts have cautioned that hunters might want to throw away possibly infected meat.

The disease has spread noticeably since its discovery in the wild in Blair and Bedford counties after the 2012 hunting season. Sixty wild deer have tested positive since then, many in the disease management area that covers much of central Pennsylvania.

While the Game Commission oversees the management area for hunters, the Department of Agriculture has authority over tens of thousands of captive deer kept on farms and preserves.

“We are working directly with captive-deer herd managers to educate them on risk factors and to do whatever possible to safeguard their herds,” State Veterinarian David Wolfgang said in a written statement. “Increased surveillance both in and outside fences is paramount.”

Officials are pressing methods to reduce spread of the disease, including managing the age and density of captive herds and adding barriers to ensure wild deer don’t contact captive ones, Wolfgang said.

When the first captive Bedford County deer died, none of those in its herd showed signs of illness, officials said Friday.

The disease can linger in the animals before symptoms — weight loss, increased urination and stumbling, among others — become noticeable.

The disease is transmissible by saliva, feces and urine, meaning animals do not have to be in direct contact for the illness to spread.

Officials said samples from the Bedford County farm were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cervid Herd Health Team for further study. Scientists will use the samples to help validate live-animal testing methods, they said, possibly enabling researchers to move beyond the current system that restricts testing to dead deer.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.

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