New Fears of a Chronic “Deer” Disease Affecting Humans

Source: Matthew Gibson - 123RF

Experts from the University of Minnesota have told lawmakers of the dangers of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), that has affected the deer population in parts of the USA and Canada, eventually spreading to and infecting humans.

According to a Fox News report, Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said that the disease should be treated as a public health issue, claiming human cases of CWD will likely be “documented in the years ahead.”

According to the CDC, CWD is a prion disease that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose.

As of January 2019, CWD in free-ranging deer, elk and/or moose has been reported in at least 24 states in the continental United States, as well as two provinces in Canada.

In addition, CWD has been reported in reindeer and moose in Norway and Finland, and a small number of imported cases have been reported in South Korea. The disease has also been found in farmed deer and elk.

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, animal studies suggest CWD poses a risk to some 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.

Osterholm likened CWD to mad cow disease, which public health officials and those in the beef industry once did not think could infect people – (it has since been confirmed that a cureless variant of mad cow — Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) — can adversely impact humans).

CWD and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease belong to the same family of diseases known as prion diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).