Can chronic wasting disease jump from deer to humans?

12:03 AM, Feb 9, 2011   |    comments
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  • Can chronic wasting disease jump from deer to humans?
  • Can chronic wasting disease jump from deer to humans?
  • Can chronic wasting disease jump from deer to humans?
  • Can chronic wasting disease jump from deer to humans?
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  • CWD testing begins in southeastern Minn.
  • SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- The discovery of Minnesota's first case of chronic wasting disease in a wild deer in January has DNR officials and hunters on alert.

    While the fatal brain disease affects only deer, elk and moose, it doesn't mean that people shouldn't take precautions as well.

    Chronic wasting disease (CWD) causes deer to behave abnormally, waste away and die.

    Now new research published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry suggests it may be possible that CWD could someday be passed to humans, just like mad cow disease.

    CWD, like mad cow disease, is caused by an infectious brain protein called a prion, rather than a bacteria or a virus.

    But Jeff Bender, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Animal Health and Food Safety said, "At this point we really have no evidence that CWD has done that.  It hasn't jumped that species barrier and that species barrier is pretty high."

    Bender says researchers believe CWD would have to circulate in a herd for a while in order for it to adapt and jump to humans.

    He said, "So I think it highlights the need to continue to try to reduce that in the domestic and the wild population."

    The University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory has tested over 35,000 wild deer over the past eight years for CWD.  Assistant scientist Lotus Smasal found Minnesota's first case in a wild deer in January.

    She said, "I know it's not necessarily a good thing for Minnesota but it was kind of exciting to see that all the work we've been doing, that we caught it.  We were able to get it.  We were doing what we were supposed to."

    Bender believes with such vigilant monitoring of the Minnesota deer herd, the chances of CWD jumping to humans is rare.

    Still, he said, we should take precautions.

    Bender said, "Would I throw away the venison in your freezer?  No."

    But he said it's important to wear gloves when you butcher a deer and cut away from the spine.

    He said, "The key message is to avoid high risk tissues.  So don't eat brain.  Don't eat spinal cord.  Don't eat eyeballs."

    The DNR will hold a public meeting at Pine Island High School on Monday, February 14th, 2011 from 7 to 9 p.m. on managing chronic wasting disease in the deer population. 

    (Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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