News media reports says Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) an always fatal neurological illness, have cropped up in Whitetail deer in Texas and Ohio.
Overall, the numbers remain low, under 1 percent, but concerned widlife officials are taking precautions.
According to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) :
“Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a prion disease that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose. It has been found in some areas of North America, including Canada and the United States, Norway and South Korea. It may take over a year before an infected animal develops symptoms, which can include drastic weight loss (wasting), stumbling, listlessness and other neurologic symptoms. CWD can affect animals of all ages and some infected animals may die without ever developing the disease. CWD is fatal to animals and there are no treatments or vaccines.
To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people. However, some animal studies suggest CWD poses a risk to certain types of non-human primates, like monkeys, that eat meat from CWD-infected animals or come in contact with brain or body fluids from infected deer or elk. These studies raise concerns that there may also be a risk to people. Since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended that it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.” (links in original)
Since its discovery in a mule deer in Colorado in 1967 the disease has been found in 30 states and four Canadian provinces. It has not been reported from the west coast and parts of the American southeast, according to the National Wildlife Health Center.
There is a great deal of concern about prions. The CDC says:
“Prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals. They are distinguished by long incubation periods, characteristic spongiform changes associated with neuronal loss, and a failure to induce inflammatory response.
The causative agents of TSEs are believed to be prions. The term “prions” refers to abnormal, pathogenic agents that are transmissible and are able to induce abnormal folding of specific normal cellular proteins called prion proteins that are found most abundantly in the brain. The functions of these normal prion proteins are still not completely understood. The abnormal folding of the prion proteins leads to brain damage and the characteristic signs and symptoms of the disease. Prion diseases are usually rapidly progressive and always fatal.”
The most common human prion disease is Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). It is not well understood. It may or may not come from eating beef infected with prion disease. According to the Mayo Clinic it strikes no more than 2 people per million world wide. The disease creates a rapidly fatal form of dementia similar to Alzheimer’s Disease.
In Texas, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) says the disease was first identified in 1967 and found in Texas in 2012. TPWD says:
“This disease presents numerous challenges for state wildlife agencies across North America. Of concern is the potential for decline within deer, elk, or other susceptible cervid populations. In addition, CWD could have indirect impacts on hunting, hunter participation, and economic benefits derived from big game hunting. In Texas, hunting is a $2.2 billion economic engine, supporting many rural towns across the state.
Because eradication is thought to be impossible once CWD becomes established in a population, it is imperative that a sound CWD management program is established to reduce the severity of implications resulting from the disease. Of course, disease prevention is the best approach to protect cervid populations and prevent social and economic repercussions. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) have developed a cooperative CWD management plan to guide both agencies in addressing risks, developing management strategies, and protecting big game resources from CWD in captive or free-ranging cervid populations.”
The situation is similar in Ohio. State authorities have also adopted a similar plan to control chronic wasting disease.
Animal diseases frequently impact humans. Some diseases are transmissible to humans, others have huge economic impact. Some are simply heart-wrenching. Researchers recently found wild chimpanzees suffering from leprosy. It is believed to be the first time that disease has infected chimpanzees. Research into animal and human diseases continues on many fronts. One researcher is studying vampire bats to better understand transmission of viruses among species.