ITHACA, N.Y.—Chronic wasting disease (CWD) may soon come to the local deer population, according to a warning from at least one official from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The illness, which is fatal for animals like deer, reindeer, elks, etc., was recently found in a deer in northwestern Pennsylvania near the border between New York and Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Agriculture. There hasn’t been any evidence that the disease can be passed to people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but there’s at least some suspicion that people could theoretically contract it and that, either way, it should be “kept from entering the human food chain.”

“Once introduced into an area or farm, the CWD protein is contagious within deer and elk populations and can spread quickly,” states the memo on CWD from the CDC. The disease is largely seen in the midwestern United States, but is increasingly prevalent in central Pennsylvania and the surrounding area.

“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 Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s NYS Animal Health Diagnostic Center. The school touts her as one of the top researchers regarding CWD. “New York state is the only state to have eliminated CWD after it was detected in the wild in 2005 and has taken pre-emptive risk minimization actions to prevent the introduction of the disease in recent years, including banning importation of live captive deer and intact deer carcasses.”

Even with those efforts, considering the recent case and its proximity to New York, Schuler said there would be a need for investigation and extra scrutiny.

“This recent discovery will require additional surveillance on both sides of the border to determine if the disease breached the fence and is present in wild white-tailed deer,” she continued. “Hunters can help by supporting the wildlife agency response and knowing CWD regulations. CWD is universally fatal to infected deer, so it is critical for people not to spread the disease further through our activities.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com