Concern mounts over Chronic Wasting

By on April 11, 2018

Prior to an April 5 West Cocalico supervisors meeting, PA State Game Warden Greg Graham was sounding the alarm bells about Chronic Wasting Disease, a condition that affects deer and other related species of mammals called “cervids.”
On April 5, Graham spoke to several dozen residents for nearly an hour and a half, outlining the dangers of the disease and explaining why it can be so difficult to contain.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is always fatal, and it attacks the animal’s central nervous system. It is caused by abnormal proteins called “prions” that can only be destroyed by incineration at high temperatures.
“It’s something that’s been very problematic in Lancaster County since 2012,” Graham said, noting that CWD started in Colorado in the 1960s, and eventually spread to areas of Pennsylvania where the state has set up containment zones called DMAs, with rigorous protocols intended to curb the spread of CWD.
Containment strategies, Graham said, include careful handling of high-risk parts of the animals, including the brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes, and spleen. The state game commission has set up dedicated collection bins for these deer parts, which can be moved to an incinerator. Other tips, Graham said, involve aggressive testing, avoiding eating contaminated venison, using rubber gloves with carcasses, boning out meat from carcasses, and cutting away from the brain and spinal cord.
State officials can foresee two big problems with CWD: the first would be the devastating impact any spread could have on a billion-dollars-a-year state hunting industry, and the costs to the state to control the condition.
The second issue is even scarier: although Graham said cattle seem to be naturally resistant, some lab tests on monkeys indicate that the “species barrier” may, in some cases, be crossed. The jump from deer to human transmission would be the worst-case scenario, although Graham said that has never happened to date.
Another troubling part of Graham’s presentation involved how difficult prions are to de-activate – barring specific types of high-temperature incineration, prions can contaminate knives and other tools, as well as environments, for long periods of time.
During a question and answer phase, resident Allen Richard spoke about how sending even one contaminated carcass to a landfill could result in a very diffuse spread of prions through groundwater.
“We want people to make a rational decision,” Richard said of CWD prevention enforcement efforts. “We have no idea what we’re doing to ourselves.”
Some residents discussed the responsibilities of deer farmers and the difference between testing deer in the wild, and on farms. Most agreed that some deer farmers are more responsible than others about CWD prevention standards.
Graham outlines government practices aimed at controlling CWD, including research, public education and quite a bit of lab testing. His office, he said, picks up road kill deer for testing, and the state will also test specimens collected by hunters.
“Good prevention requires the participation of the hunting community,” Graham told the Ephrata Review prior to the meeting. “Our goal is to manage CWD — it has spread in its prevalence. It’s dangerous.”
After the presentation, reviewing township business, supervisors heard a police report including the theft of three all-terrain vehicles from a trailer. A representative of the Ephrata Police Department said the three ATVs were recovered, and the investigation is ongoing.
Another new issue did not appear on the board’s agenda Thursday night, but it is being talked about in the community: new reports show that the state may be looking at the possibility of a casino coming to an area near West Cocalico township.
“None of it makes common sense to me,” supervisors chair James J. Stoner told the Ephrata Review before the meeting, saying that the township has not been contacted by the state regarding the issue.
“They would have a tough time getting into West Cocalico township,” said supervisor Jeff Sauder, citing the lack of adequate roads and sewer connections for big commercial projects.
While the exact location for the new casino has not been decided, possible sites include Reading and Berks County.

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