Expert working to slow spread of fatal deer disease

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – With the fall hunting seasons approaching, chronic wasting disease detected in deer in several parts of the state is a major concern. It’s prompting the biggest response ever, including a new man leading an important part of the fight.

If you’re not familiar with chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer, allow Wayne Laroche to paint a picture.

“You have animals that are losing coordination,” Laroche said. “They’re drooling, they’re not feeding anymore.”

The disease fatal to deer can get ugly quick. Laroche wants to slow it down. The former head of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management has been appointed Special Assistant for CWD Response and will lead the agency’s efforts to slow the spread in the wild deer population. In cases of infected captive deer, kept as pets or larger scale deer farms, the state Department of Agriculture holds jurisdiction over the animals and the disease.

CWD, the result of a mutated protein that affects the brains of infected deer, elk and moose.

In deer, it’s both hunting heritage and economy on the line.

“$1.6 billion a year probably is spent pursuing and all activities related to whitetail deer,” Laroche said.

A recent case involved a wild deer in Clearfield County, just 10 miles outside the range of the state’s wild elk.

How the disease is spread is still very much a mystery. Deer even suspected of having it are euthanized.

“At this time, there is no reliable live animal test that we’d be able to prove that an animal was not positive,” Laroche said.

Dozens of captive deer have been put down by the Department of Agriculture since 2012 in Adams, Franklin, Fulton and Bedford counties.

Laroche, who will work alongside state and federal agencies including the USDA, is ready to lend both expertise and optimism.

“I argue that if we don’t think we can solve the problem, then we won’t solve the problem,” he said.

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