Disease management areas, including one that covers much of Lancaster County, have been expanded after researchers found a record number of deer sick with a contagious, always-fatal illness in 2019.
A statewide total of 204 free-range deer killed last year showed positive results for chronic wasting disease, officials at the state Game Commission announced Thursday. None were killed in Lancaster County.
That statewide total is higher than in any other year since 2012, when the disease was first discovered in Pennsylvania. It’s also up from 2018, when only 123 deer tested positive.
Last year’s 204 disease-positive deer were discovered after game officials tested samples from 15,686 free-range deer and 161 elk.
No elk tested positive for the disease in Pennsylvania, officials said.
“We get the largest part of our samples from hunting seasons,” commission spokesman Bob Frye said. “Roadkills are the second biggest category of deer tested.”
Last year, 11,631 samples came from hunters’ harvests, and roadkills amounted to 3,791, Frye said.
“The rest are a combination of ‘clinical’ suspects, or deer that appeared sick and were euthanized, escaped captive deer and those taken for crop damage,” he said.
Most of 2019’s disease-positive deer were harvested in Bedford, Fulton and Blair counties. There also were positive cases in Cambria, Franklin, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.
While no free-range deer with the illness were harvested in Lancaster County, chronic wasting disease has infected animals on local captive deer, according to routine tests by officials at the state Department of Agriculture.
The disease can be spread between captive and free-range deer through direct physical contact or contact with bodily fluids.
Because of the local positive cases, commission officials have decided to expand a local disease management area from 346 square miles to 743 square miles in Berks, Lancaster and Lebanon counties. The area is called Disease Management Area 4. Management areas in other parts of the state also were expanded.
“The expansions of Disease Management Area 4, as well as areas 2 and 3, were just approved within the last few weeks,” Frye said.
The areas — with special rules about moving high-risk deer parts — are designed to slow the spread of the disease, which kills deer by attacking their brains and causing a loss of motor functions.
Since 2012, a total of 453 free-range deer have tested positive for the disease across the state.
In their Thursday announcement, game officials raised an alarm, pointing out there are “more sick deer showing up in more places.”