Important information about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and deer

With deer season approaching, I wanted to make sure to provide our hunters, meat processors and food banks with the most up-to-date information on the latest research and best practices for identifying and managing harvested deer potentially infected with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

At this time, current published scientific studies support the hypothesis that there is a strong species barrier protecting humans from Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), and to date, there have not been any documented cases of humans being infected with CWD. Since CWD has been in Pennsylvania for several years, there is a heightened awareness of the disease among Pennsylvania hunters.

There are voluntary Best Management Practices (BMPs) that should be practiced by hunters. These BMPs include handling carcasses properly and discarding high-risk parts with abnormal proteins - including brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes, backbone, spleen and anything containing visible brain or spinal cord material. In addition, many hunters are participating with the PA Department of Agriculture and PA Game Commission to test the heads of wild deer for CWD in Disease Management Areas. These practices help protect hunters and their families against CWD.

Research continues in search of a cure and rapid test for CWD, which was recently accelerated with the issuance of the CWD research Request for Applications published by the PA Department of Agriculture. It is important to follow commonsense safe-handling practices to help safeguard hunters and their families to prevent the spread of the disease. These include:

  • Do not shoot, handle or eat meat from wild deer or elk that look sick, are acting strangely or are found dead. However, keep in mind that most CWD-infected deer do not look or act sick.
  • Report any sightings of sick or abnormal-acting wild deer or elk to the PA Game Commission.
  • If you are hunting in or near a disease management area, place your deer’s head in PA Game Commission collection containers to submit it for CWD testing.
  • If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, consider asking that your animal be processed separately to avoid mixing meat from multiple animals.
  • It is recommended that processors take extra care to thoroughly clean equipment after processing each wild deer.

When field-dressing or processing deer:

  • Wear latex or rubber gloves.
  • Minimize how much you handle the organs, particularly brain or spinal cord tissue.
  • Do not use household knives or other kitchen utensils for field dressing.
  • Double bag high-risk parts and dispose of in an approved landfill.

After considering published scientific studies and best management practices, if hunters hunting outside of a DMA are still concerned, they can have their deer tested for an $80 fee through the PA Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System (PADLS). An FAQ on testing locations, fees and sample submission process can be found on the PADLS website. To learn more about CWD in Pennsylvania visit pgc.pa.gov.

Processors interested in learning more about voluntary best management practices can review the recent publication by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries: Best Management Practices for Deer Processors and Taxidermists: Reducing the Risk of CWD Transmission and Contamination.