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Deer from Lancaster County farm diagnosed with chronic wasting disease

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A deer originating from a West Cocalico Township farm had a contagious and fatal disease, state researchers confirmed this week.

The deer was harvested from a Wisconsin hunting ground in December and a state veterinarian tested it for chronic wasting disease, a brain illness resulting in lesions and erratic behavior that can eventually lead to death.

Wisconsin officials notified the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in December, which quarantined the Lancaster County farm soon after. Researchers at the Pennsylvania Veterinary Laboratory conducted a DNA test on the deer and confirmed it suffered from the disease this week.

The deer originated from the same West Cocalico farm as another deer diagnosed earlier this month with the disease, according to a department spokesperson. While the farm has been quarantined, no steps towards elimination of the farm’s stock have been taken at this time.

All of Pennsylvania’s 860 privately-owned deer breeding grounds must report any animal exhibiting early symptoms of the disease to the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services.

Herd owners must also submit samples from half of all deer over the age of 12 months who die for any apparent reason. Samples can include lymph nodes or, if the deer has been dead for less than three days, the entire severed head.

The department also encourages hunters who kill deer in one of two disease management areas designated by the state Game Commission to place the severed head into a head collection container. A list and map of the areas can be found on the commission’s website.

The designated areas were established by an executive order from the commission in 2012. No deer may be removed from the zones.

Collected samples are then tested by the state laboratory. Tests typically take around 60 days to complete and require the death of the deer, meaning living deer cannot be tested for the disease. Since 1998, the Department of Agriculture has tested 27,000 samples for the disease.

The state department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture work with herd owners to study any breeding grounds where chronic wasting disease is found. These surveys can occasionally result in elimination of the deer on that ground, for which owners are typically compensated.

In June, state and federal officials euthanized 215 deer on a Bedford County farm after a deer succumbed to chronic wasting disease the previous February. Twenty seven deer ended up testing positive for the disease. The owner was compensated for the loss by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the most recent census of such programs conducted by the USDA, breeding grounds generate $5.68 million in annual sales in the state.

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