Cases of ‘zombie deer’ disease now in 2 local counties

Cases of ‘zombie deer’ disease now in 2 local counties

“Zombie deer” disease, officially called chronic wasting disease, or CWD, has spread into Westmoreland and Indiana counties, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The game commission maintains three disease management areas across the state to control the disease, and now all of those areas are larger than before.

The commission said that’s because more sick deer are showing up in more places.

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Andrea Korman, the agency’s CWD biologist, said the game commission tested 15,686 free-ranging deer and 161 free-ranging elk in 2019. The vast majority of those were hunter-harvested animals.

Of the total, 204 white-tailed deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The top three counties for CWD-positive deer were Bedford County (99 new cases), Fulton County (56 new cases) and Blair County (30 new cases).

Other counties that had at least one CWD-positive deer included Cambria, Franklin, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Somerset and Westmoreland.

No elk were found with CWD.

More about CWD

The disease is primarily found in free-ranging deer, elk and moose, and has been identified in farmed deer and elk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The illness is fairly low in free-ranging deer and elk, but in some areas where the disease is more established, infection rates can top 10%, the CDC reported, and localized infection rates of 25% have also been reported. The numbers are even higher in the captive deer population with rates as high as 79%, or 4 out of every 5 deer in at least one captive herd.

There have been no recorded human infections, but here's why the CDC is concerned. Studies have suggested that non-human primates, such as monkeys, that eat infected meat or come into contact with an infected animal's body fluid could be at risk. The CDC said the research raises concern there could be a risk to people as well.

Since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended keeping any meat infected with CWD from the food supply.

With no treatments or vaccines for so-called “zombie deer” disease, the illness is fatal, although some infected animals may never develop the disease.

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