HARRISBURG – Chronic wasting disease has been found for the first time in the state’s wild deer population, nearly five months after it was initially identified in captive deer, the Pennsylvania Game Commission said Friday.
Three deer killed by hunters last fall in Blair and Bedford counties tested positive for the neurological illness, which is contagious and fatal among deer, elk and moose. There is no evidence it can be transmitted to humans.
The animals were the first free-ranging deer to test positive since the state began monitoring for the disease in 1998. The Game Commission plans to discuss the issue at a news conference Monday.
Until now, chronic wasting disease had been identified only in captive deer in Pennsylvania. Two animals died of the illness last fall on an Adams County farm, the first cases ever reported in the state.
Since then, about 5,000 deer have been tested for the disease statewide, officials said in a statement Friday. Most results came back negative, although 1,500 samples are still pending.
It’s unclear how hunting regulations and other deer policies might be affected by the findings. A state task force has been working to educate hunters and stop the illness from spreading.
“We will continue to work diligently with the Department of Agriculture and other members of the task force to better manage the threat of this disease to the state’s captive and wild deer populations,” commission executive director Carl Roe said in a statement.
Chronic wasting disease was first discovered in Colorado captive mule deer in 1967. Pennsylvania is the 23rd state to have confirmed cases of the illness.
Symptoms include weight loss, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, and abnormal behavior like stumbling, trembling and depression. There is no cure or vaccine.