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Pennsylvania Continues to Fight Wasting Disease

May 24

Pennsylvania farm officials are still battling chronic wasting syndrome, a condition that is endangering the state's deer ranches and the hunting industry's stability and viability.

CWD was initially discovered in mule deer in the 1960s at a Colorado wildlife research facility. The disease is lethal and spreads by aberrant proteins called prions, which are commonly present in the central nervous system. Weight loss, listlessness, and blank facial expressions are the first signs.

CWD has now been confirmed in 23 states, bringing the total number of states affected to 23.

CWD does not appear to be transmissible to humans, unlike other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies such as Mad Cow Disease. The CDC maintains that there is no evidence that the sickness is zoonotic, and agricultural officials have reassured Pennsylvania residents that they are not in danger.

Despite the lack of a zoonotic threat, game officials nonetheless advise farmers to avoid harvesting animals that may be carriers of the disease.

While CWD is now restricted to the state's deer farms, some officials fear it is just a matter of time until the disease spreads to the wild deer population, despite widespread containment and monitoring measures.

For ranchers who depend on the venison industry, the threat of CWD is devastating. If the disease were to spread to wild deer herds, it would likely ruin the state's hunting economy. One way for them to prevent the disease from spreading is by not allowing their deer to contact other herds, either through physical contact or sharing of water and food sources. While this can be hard, support from an agricultural financing program can ease the burden.

The state has also set up a program to test all deer on farms for CWD. If the disease is found, the herd will be quarantined and depopulated. This program has been effective in preventing the spread of CWD, but it is costly and time-consuming.