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Chronic Wasting Disease

On the hunt for answers.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) infects the brain and nervous system of cervids, including deer. The illness always results in death.

Researchers in the college are examining whether some deer might be susceptible to the disease because of their genes, and how genetic variation in deer might influence where and how fast the disease spreads.

"It appears that deer in Pennsylvania's northern tier are less related to those in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania," says David Walter, adjunct assistant professor of wildlife ecology and assistant unit leader of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State. "That may well have implications for how CWD spreads."

One of the top priorities for the Pennsylvania Game Commission is keeping chronic wasting disease away from the state's elk herd, which resides in all or parts of seven north central counties:

  • Cameron
  • Centre
  • Clearfield
  • Clinton
  • Elk
  • McKean
  • Potter

The agency plans to begin conducting targeted culls to eliminate infected deer that might spread the disease, and even euthanized a bull elk recently that wandered out of the elk range into an area where CWD is known to exist in wild deer--before it could return, perhaps carrying the disease.

About CWD

CWD is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep.

There is no strong evidence that humans can contract CWD.

CWD has been detected in deer and elk in 23 states and two Canadian provinces.

The first Pennsylvania-based detections occurred in 2012 in Blair and Bedford Counties.

Outbreaks of CWD have been seen across the United States, including in:

  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

and in two Canadian Provinces:

  • Alberta
  • Saskatchewan

--Jeff Mulhollem