Buck deer 1

A buck moves across a field in Lancaster County Central Park.

Local hunters should remain vigilant against chronic wasting disease — an always-fatal illness that has been sickening deer in Pennsylvania for nearly a decade.

That's according to Pennsylvania Game Commission officials, who published information about the disease ahead of the state's popular firearms deer season, which begins Saturday.

The illness, which is similar to mad cow disease, is spread by deer-to-deer contact, as well as through contact with contaminated surfaces in the environment, officials said.

To curb the spread, officials have established quarantine zones called disease management areas, in which hunters are required to follow special regulations, including restrictions on transporting certain deer parts.

Most of Lancaster County is in a quarantine zone after a deer raised in captivity north of Lancaster city tested positive for the disease in 2019.

Hunters who take deer in disease management areas can have them tested for free by depositing the animals’ heads into designated collection containers, six of which are located within Lancaster County.

“Although there is no known case of it being transmitted to humans, the Game Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend people do not consume meat from deer that test positive for CWD,” commission officials said.

On top of that, a recent Penn State University study found that white-tailed deer have likely contracted Sars-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — from humans, and it’s now spreading from animal to animal.

This summer, officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that an analysis of sampled deer had turned up results for Sars-CoV-2 antibodies in multiple states, including Pennsylvania.

While there is no evidence that the virus can spread from deer back to humans, researchers have said it’s possible. They worry the virus could mutate in the animals, possibly becoming a more-dangerous or vaccine-resistant variant.

Those findings have not led to any new regulations, said Travis Lau, a Game Commission spokesman.

“We continue to recommend that all hunters handling and processing harvested deer follow routine precautions that include wearing gloves while field dressing and disinfecting knives and other tools by soaking them in a 10-percent bleach solution for 10 minutes before putting away,” he said.

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