Deer test CWD positive in Blair

A fatal brain disease attacking area deer has been discovered on a Blair County hobby farm.

The state Department of Agriculture announced Friday that two white-tailed deer on a small Greenfield Township hobby farm tested positive for chronic wasting disease.

“These are the first CWD positives among captive deer in Blair County,” the announcement reads. “The farm is now under quarantine.”

Chronic wasting disease is an infectious protein that attacks deer’s brains, eventually leading to a loss of motor functions and death.

The Friday announcement, which also referenced a positive case in Lancaster County, did not identify the exact location of the Greenfield Township hobby farm or its owner.

That information is deliberately withheld to lessen chances that the owner will receive unwanted attention due to the positive test results, Shannon Powers, deputy communications director with the state Department of Agriculture, said.

“That has been an issue,” she said.

Deer cannot be tested for the disease while they are alive. But they are tested when they die, Powers said.

The two Greenfield Township deer were killed by a bear in April, and tests were required, she said.

When a deer tests positive for the disease, officials encourage farm operators to kill the rest of their herd to eliminate the spreading of chronic wasting, Powers said.

“We make a recommendation,” she said. “We cannot dictate that somebody destroy their animals.”

On the Greenfield Township hobby farm, three deer were kept, she said.

A hobby farm is described as a location where few deer are kept — sometimes as pets.

The Greenfield Township farm has bought and sold deer in the past, Powers said, noting that the selling of deer is regulated.

The importance of not transporting contaminated animals or animal parts has been stressed by experts, including Wayne Laroche, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s special assistant for chronic wasting disease response.

“It all boils down to people,” he said earlier this year. “We’re moving everything around.”

Chronic wasting disease can be spread through direct physical contact or through bodily fluids, meaning if a deer expels excrement onto a surface and another deer comes in contact with that surface, it can become infected.

When the disease is discovered within a farm’s animal population, farm owners are barred from transporting deer for a five-year period, Powers said.

If no new cases of the disease are found during that period, the quarantine can be lifted, she said.

There are 24 deer farms in Blair County, and there are 860 breeding farms, hobby farms and hunting preserves across the state.

The disease can be spread between captive and wild deer. And Game Commission officials said the disease likely got its start in the 1960s at a feed testing facility in Colorado and was transported to other areas through infected deer.

Chronic wasting disease was first detected in Blair and Bedford counties after the 2012 hunting season. A disease management area spanning more than 2,000 square miles now includes parts of Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Clearfield, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset counties.

The Greenfield Township deer were tested by the Department of Agriculture’s Pennsylvania Veterinary Laboratory in Harrisburg, and the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, confirmed they were infected with the disease.

Deer, elk and moose can contract the disease, and symptoms include “weight loss, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, and abnormal behavior like stumbling, trembling and depression,” according to the department.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.

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