Summer 02 index                                                                                                                        CivAb index

CWD threatens deer and most likely humans who eat them

Chronic wasting disease, the transmissible encephalopathy that affects cervine animals,  has erupted in white-tailed deer in Wisconsin bringing the total of infected states to nine plus two Canadian provinces(CO,KS,MT,NE,NM,OK,SD,WI,WY,Alb,Sask). 

The disease was first noticed in 1967 after deer were liberated from pens at the Foothills Wildlife Research Facility at Fort Collins, Colorado where feeding research was conducted.  The prion that causes this type of disease (a transmissible encephalopathy, TSE) was incubated at deer and elk farms where the animals were confined and slaughtered for sale as meat or killed in canned hunts. 


The prion, an abnormal protein responsible for the disease, has been found in saliva, urine, feces, and blood of infected animals.  Penning facilitates transmission via saliva and contaminated soil.  The disease can be  spread by escapees or picked up by free-roaming visitors.  Hunters' lures made from scents from penned animals have also been named as a means of transmission.


There is concern that domestic cows could be infected but state and federal officials say there is no evidence of this.


Officials also say there is no evidence of transmission to humans but at least three hunters under the age of 30 have died from Creuzfeldt Jakob Disease, the human prion disease.  This is very suspicious because the median age for CJD is 68.  The characteristic of variant CJD, the human form of BSE ("mad cow" or bovine spongeiform encephalopathy), is that it affects younger people.  There are also suspicious clusters.  One involves four hunters who partook of a feast that included elk killed in the west.  This is of great concern because CJD normally affects only one in a million people.


Ranched deer and elk are being killed and incinerated but whether at the 2000 degree temperature needed to destroy the prion has not appeared in reports.  Colorado and Wisconsin are killing wild deer as fast as they can handle the corpses. 


Wildlife officials in other states are testing road kills with fingers crossed.  Some of the 2300 game farms in the US harboring 110,000 animals are closing. 


August 30, 2002

Chronic Wasting Disease Case Found in Minnesota 

Animal-health officials confirmed Minnesota's first case of chronic wasting Disease (CWD) on Friday, 30 Aug 2002, marking the spread of the incurable illness into a 10th state.

The state Board of Animal Health said a farm-raised elk tested positive
after dying mysteriously. The rest of the Aitkin County herd has been quarantined. Officials said they didn't know the source of the infection.  They didn't say how many animals were in the herd.

CWD destroys the brain in deer, elk, moose, and caribou and causes the
animal to grow thin and die. Once found just in a small area of Colorado and Wyoming, the illness has spread through elk ranches and wild deer and elk herds as far away as Wisconsin.

In efforts to contain the disease, thousands of captive elk have been
slaughtered in Colorado and thousands of deer have been killed in Wisconsin.  The disease has also been found in New Mexico, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Canada.

On Wed 28 Aug 2002, Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum told federal officials a
third of hunters could skip this season over fears about the safety of deer meat, jeopardizing his state's battle to control the disease. McCallum sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman urging her agency to "get off the dime" and approve a rapid test for the disease and certify private
laboratories so they can also do testing.

Though experts say there is no evidence CWD can infect humans, the World
Health Organization (WHO) warns against eating any part of a deer with signs of the disease.

Health officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin, meanwhile, have been working
with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate the deaths of 3 men, 2 from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and the other from Pick's disease, another neurological disorder. The men, 2 from Wisconsin and from Minnesota, knew each another and ate at wild-game
feasts hosted by one of them.

The cases have attracted attention because of concerns CWD disease could
eventually show up in humans [in the form of] Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.  Both are in a family of diseases called spongiform encephalopathies. Mad-cow disease (BSE, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), the version of the illness affecting cattle, did jump the species barrier in Europe and killed people.

On the Net: State disease information:

- --

Summer 02 Index                                                                                                  CivAb Index

The Civil Abolitionist

          Summer 2002  v.13 no. 2