November 27, 2021

Fatal deer disease found near New York border

A fatal disease first reported in captive deer in the 1960s has been found within 5 miles of the New York border this week, but Cortland hunter Jesse Wildman says it won’t affect the hunting season.

The deer, found in northwestern Pennsylvania, tested positive for chronic wasting disease, which hasn’t been seen in New York since 2005, according to a news release from Cornell University.

“As of right now, New York CWD doesn’t affect hunters with changes in harvest limits or season dates,” Wildman said. “Hunters in New York should follow the guidelines set forth by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which includes not importing whole carcasses into New York state.”

Chronic wasting disease is fatal, affecting the animal’s brain and nervous system, and is commonly found in deer, elk and moose, reports the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The disease was first detected in the state in Oneida County in wild and captive deer, but no new cases have been detected since.

The disease was first discovered in captive deer in the 1960s at a Colorado research facility, then in wild deer in 1981.

By the 1990s, it had spread across northern Colorado and southern Wyoming and into 25 states by earlier this year, reports the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Chronic wasting disease has increasingly plagued state wildlife and agricultural agencies with no sustainable solution in sight,” said Krysten Schuler, a wildlife disease ecologist with the Cornell University College of Veterinary medicine’s New York State Animal Diagnostic Center.

The positive case will require an investigation to make sure it did not infect wild deer in New York, Cornell reported. The disease can be spread through body fluids and can be picked up by a healthy deer through direct contact with the animal’s body fluids or by ingesting food or water from a contaminated source.

If disease is present in an area, molecules can bind with soil particles and remain infectious to the environment for 18 years or more, which puts future populations at risk, according to the DEC.

It is not harmful to humans, but the World Health Organization reports it is a risk to other primates, and recommends keeping meat from chronic wasting disease and similar prion diseases out of the food chain.

Still, hunters can contribute to the spread if regulations are not followed, Schuler said. Every year, the DEC collects 2,000 samples of brain tissue and lymph nodes from hunter-killed wild deer and submits them for testing.

“Hunters can help by supporting the wildlife agency response and knowing CWD regulations,” Schuler said. “CWD is universally fatal to infected deer, so it is critical for people not to spread disease further through activities.”

Although human activity — like improper disposal of out-of-state carcasses — contributes to the spread, commercial game farmers and scavengers, like coyotes and crows, can spread the disease over a greater area, the DEC reports. Hunting regulations prohibit importing captive deer into New York and restrict importation and possession of whole carcasses.

When a hunter buys a hunting license, the DEC offers a free guide that includes information on the disease, what to look for and the current regulations, Wildman said. Signs of infection include emaciation, disorientation, loss of bodily fluids, extreme thirst and death.

“I think if anyone sees a deer that is acting unusual, they should contact the New York state DEC to express their concerns,” Wildman said.