Harrisburg - While there continues to be no known cases of chronic wasting disease in the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, joined by veterinarians and laboratory technicians from the Pennsylvania and U.S. departments of Agriculture, is stepping up its efforts next week to verify that fact as the two week deer hunting rifle season gets underway Nov. 28. “Currently, there are no confirmed or suspected cases of wasting disease-infected deer or elk in Pennsylvania, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that it stays that way,” said Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. “We are planning to collect samples from 4,000 hunter-killed deer to test for Wasting disease. Last year, we tested samples from 3,699 deer, all of which were negative for wasting disease.” First identified in 1967, wasting disease is a progressive and always fatal disease, which scientists theorize is caused by an unknown agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form. There currently is no practical way to test live animals for wasting disease, and there is no vaccine to prevent an animal from contracting the disease, nor is there a cure for animals that become infected. Clinical signs include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, and, ultimately, death. There is no evidence of wasting disease being transmissible to humans or to other non-cervid livestock under normal conditions. “Hunters should be mindful of wildlife health issues, but no more so than in recent years. We must keep the threat posed by wasting disease in perspective. At this point, we have no evidence that wasting disease is in Pennsylvania, or that it poses health problems for humans. Remember, we’ve been living with rabies - which does affect people - in Pennsylvania since the early 1980s,” Ross said. Game Commission deer aging teams will collect 4,000 deer heads randomly throughout the state beginning Nov. 29. Results are expected in 2006. The Game Commission collected blood samples from the 35 hunter-killed elk during the elk season (Nov. 7-12). The elk samples will be tested for wasting disease at the New Bolton Center. Bob Boyd, assistant director of the Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management, said the agency will release the elk and deer test results as soon as they are available. Since 1998, the Game Commission has tested about 400 deer that have died of unknown illness or were exhibiting abnormal behavior. Hunters should shoot only animals that appear to be healthy and behave normally. It also is recommended that they use rubber gloves for field dressing. These are simple precautions that hunters can follow to ensure their hunt remains a safe and pleasurable experience. Wasting disease is present in free-ranging and captive wildlife populations in 14 states and two Canadian provinces. However, the Game Commission has been working with other state agencies to protect the Commonwealth’s wild and captive deer and elk. To learn more about Wasting disease, visit the agency’s website www.pgc.state.pa.us and click on the “Wasting disease Update” section in the “Quick Clicks” box in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.