Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Scientists warn deer's chronic-wasting disease could spread to humans; guide shows hunters how to minimize exposure

Experts are warning that a fatal disease infecting deer, moose and elk in at least 24 states could spread to humans. Chronic wasting disease is a progressive ailment that attacks the brain and central nervous systems of infected animals by way of prions, which are a kind of mutated protein. CWD will likely spread to humans in the future and should be treated as a public-health issue, experts from the University of Minnesota said at a legislative hearing last week, David Orrick reports for the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

Michael Osterholm, director for UM's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, tracked the emergence of mad-cow disease, which is also spread by prions. He said at the hearing, "It is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead. It is possible that number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events." He also noted that public-health officials and the beef industry didn't believe mad-cow disease could spread to humans until research confirmed it in 1996.

Canadian researchers found that some macaque monkeys that ate CWD-infected meat developed neurological disorders, but a different group of researchers could not replicate those results in another experiment. Still, the Canadian government was concerned enough to issue an advisory about eating meat from animals in the deer family, Orrick reports.

"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend against eating CWD-infected deer, but without anything conclusive, wildlife agencies throughout America say the decision is a personal choice, and some hunters do eat the meat," Orrick reports.

An online field guide from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection provides guidelines for hunters on how to field-dress deer to minimize exposure to the disease. Hunters are advised to wear rubber or latex gloves while cutting and processing the meat, minimize contact with the animal's brain, spinal cord, spleen and lymph nodes, and thoroughly clean any knives or utensils with a 50/50 bleach and water solution.

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