View Full Version : A US relative of mad cow disease puts hunters at risk
January 26, 2001, 11:45 AM
A US relative of mad cow disease puts hunters
By SANDRA BLAKESLEE in New York
In a situation likened to the early days of the mad cow epidemic in Britain,
when people were told it was safe to eat beef because the disease could
not infect people, some biologists are saying American hunters should be
warned about a similar malady infecting wild deer and elk in Colorado and
The malady is called chronic wasting disease. While no cases of human
disease have been directly traced to deer or elk meat, there is a growing
body of evidence to suggest it could happen.
And as the hunting season is in full swing, a number of scientists are calling
for more action to warn hunters about the potential problem.
Mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease are among a bizarre class of
prion-caused disorders known as transmissible spongiform
encephalopathies, or TSEs.
However, transmission is difficult to track because people or animals
typically develop the disease a long time after they have been exposed to
Until a few years ago, for example, it was widely believed that each animal,
including humans, had its own unique form of TSE and that the diseases
rarely passed between species.
When mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, first
appeared in Britain in the mid-1980s, government agriculture and health
officials initially offered assurances that it could not spread to people.
Now, however, up to 80 Britons have died of a related brain disorder they
are believed to have contracted from consuming affected meat.
It is not known how many others may ultimately fall ill and die.
Eventually, the British Government destroyed almost 4 million cattle to stem
the spread of the disease. But last week a three-year investigation into the
causes of the epidemic severely criticised the Government's "culture of
secrecy" in not being more honest with the public, and for using "an
approach whose object was sedation".
Wildlife officials in Colorado and Wyoming, where the chronic wasting
disease is firmly entrenched along their shared border and is estimated to
affect 1 per cent of elk and from 6 per cent to 15 per cent of deer, insist not
enough is known about the problem to cancel hunting permits.
A veterinarian at the Colorado Department of Wildlife, Dr Mike Miller, said:
"We don't think the problem is a big deal."
Areas where the disease is endemic were not closed to hunting, nor was
there a need to close them, he said. "If people choose to hunt there it is
Instead, hunters are advised by State wildlife officials to avoid obviously
sick animals and to use rubber gloves when cutting up all carcasses,
particularly brain and nerve tissues, where the infectious prions apparently
But people familiar with hunting practices in those areas say hunters are
not taking even these precautions.
Mr Arnold Hale, a retiree from Livermore, Colorado, said: "Around here,
people are not knowledgeable about the disease or just don't care.
"When you talk to hunters most don't trust the Government. I don't know
anyone taking precautions.''
The New York Times
January 26, 2001, 02:20 PM
When I first read this I was suspicious that this was just some false propaganda put out by an antihunting group. However, I have verified the facts presented above. I found an article using Lexis-Nexis from the American Academy of Pediatrics in their publication Pediatrics 2000; vol. 106: pgs. 1160-1165, November, 2000
It is something to be aware of, however I will include a quote from the article.
The first recognized TSE, scrapie, was reported by sheepherders more than 200 years ago. During the 20th century, transmission of scrapie from an affected sheep to healthy sheep and goats was reported, and subsequently, experimental transmission to mice and hamsters (animal models of prion disease) was accomplished. More recently, naturally occurring TSEs have been documented in the United States among ranch mink (transmissible mink encephalopathy [TME; last reported in 1985]) and among deer and elk (chronic wasting disease) mainly in Colorado and Wyoming. A link between scrapie, TME, or chronic wasting disease and human disease has not been established.
I would suggest that we all carry latex gloves to use when we process and that we cook our meat all the way through if you live in or around Colorado and Wyoming. A prion is just a protein with the ability to make the host replicate it. If cooked it will denature and lose any pathogenicity
I'm going to include the link to the article here if anyone wishes to read it.
January 26, 2001, 02:33 PM
EDMONTON, Alberta (Apr 29, 1996 2:00 p.m. EDT) -- An elk raised on a ranch near Regina, Saskatchewan, is believed to be the first ranch
animal in North America diagnosed with a disease similar to mad cow disease.
The animal, which was slaughtered in January, had Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE), a disease sometimes found in wild elk,
according to the Canadian agriculture department.
TSE is similar to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly called mad cow disease.
Dr. George Luterbach, manager of animal health for Saskatchewan and Manitoba, said there is no evidence that the elk disease can be
passed to cattle or humans.
"Despite studies in the United States since 1967, there's never been a case of it spreading to cattle," Luterbach said Saturday. "Nobody has
ever gotten sick from it."
However, Luterbach said 23 other elk on the ranch will be destroyed as a precaution. The Saskatchewan elk was imported from South
In Canada, elk are raised primarily for their velvet antlers, which are sold for medicines and aphrodisiacs in Asia. They are not slaughtered
Colorado wildlife officials say a disease similar to mad cow disease has been found in elk and deer living in the wilds in Larimer County. The
first case of the ailment was documented about 14 years ago in northern Colorado.
In Britain, a government report linking mad cow disease to 10 cases of a fatal brain disease in humans has raised fears that the disease can
be spread by eating beef. There have been calls for a massive slaughter of British cattle.
January 26, 2001, 02:38 PM
Cousin to mad-cow disease hits deer, elk
High Country News -- March 16, 1998 (Vol. 30, No. 5)
by Chris Carrel
As anybody who has followed the Oprah Winfrey beef libel trial knows, mad-cow disease has never been found in American cattle. Deer
and elk, though, are another matter. Chronic wasting disease, a cousin to the mad-cow plague that decimated British cattle herds, has
been identified in deer and elk in three Western states.
Infected animals waste away, becoming emaciated and listless. "A (sick deer) might have its head down, its ears flattened, instead of up
and alert," says Beth Williams, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Wyoming Department of Veterinary Sciences in Laramie. "It would have a spacy look in
its eyes. It would be able to see you, but wouldn't care very much."
Once symptoms emerge, death comes within weeks as the disease destroys the animal's coordination, leaving it unable to stand.
"Often the actual cause of death turns out to be pneumonia," says Williams. "I wouldn't be surprised if many are finished off by coyotes."
Monitoring programs carried out over the past four years in Colorado and Wyoming suggest that the disease infects 5 percent of the deer and approximately 1
percent of the elk in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming.
Wildlife officials from both states believe the disease is confined to this relatively small area. South Dakota has recently identified a dozen cases in captive elk,
further complicating the picture.
While chronic wasting disease is no newcomer to the Rockies, the rate of infection, particularly for deer, seems to be excessively high. Five percent is "a
staggering figure," says Clarence Gibbs, head of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE) research at the National Institutes for Health, in Bethesda,
Md. "That should be sufficient stimulus for people to get off their suitcases and try to figure out where it's coming from."
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was first detected 31 years ago in captive mule deer near Fort Collins. The disease is one member of a family of rare and
mysterious brain illnesses called TSEs that kill by eating microscopic holes in the brains of their victims. Mad-cow disease is another form of the illness, as is
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, and scrapie, which has been endemic at low levels in American sheep since the 1940s.
Research is stepping up. Colorado is expanding its monitoring program for the next hunting season, while South Dakota plans to initiate a surveillance program
for wild deer and elk herds. Last October, the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service initiated a modest seven-state program to determine if the disease
is present outside of Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota.
Currently, little is known about how chronic wasting disease is spread among deer and elk, let alone whether other species can be infected. Experiments are
under way at the Animal Research Service's laboratories in Ames, Iowa, to test cattle susceptibility to the disease. Results are at least 18 months away, says
Randall Cutlip with the Animal Research Service.
There are inevitable concerns about whether the infection can pass from game to hunters, especially since mad-cow disease made the jump from beef to people.
Public health officials don't believe that humans can contract the disease by eating infected animals, though they acknowledge the possibility exists.
"Is chronic wasting disease transmissible (to humans under normal conditions)? The answer is nobody knows," says John Pape, an epidemiologist with the
Colorado Department of Health, "The evidence suggests it is not."
Colorado officials are asking hunters handling deer and elk from affected areas to use precautions, including wearing gloves when dressing out animals, avoiding
the most infectious tissues, the brain, lymph and spinal tissue, and boning out the carcass.
Wyoming has yet to issue health recommendations for deer and elk hunters, but "the risk is so small, I wouldn't worry about it at all," says Tom Thorne of Wyoming
Game and Fish, who adds that he regularly hunts and eats deer from southeastern Wyoming.
What does worry Thorne is a possible spread of the disease to uninfected deer and elk herds. "If, in the worst-case scenario, this disease spread from deer to
deer ... across the country, it could play a role in limiting your (deer) population," he says.
The spread of the disease among captive animals may represent a more immediate threat.
"This is probably going to cause quite a bit of problem in the game-farm industry," says Wyoming's Tom Thorne. Captive herds seem to facilitate the spread of
chronic wasting disease, just as they do other communicable diseases like tuberculosis. Already, several cases have been linked to game farms. The captive
South Dakota elk that developed the disease came from a source herd that included animals from the Colorado-Wyoming infection zone as well as from Canada,
according to Sam Holland, South Dakota's state veterninarian. Additionally, two recent Canadian casualties, a deer and an elk, both originated from U.S. game
All of which means that either chronic wasting disease is already more widespread than suspected, says Thomas Pringle, a molecular biologist and public lands
advocate, or game farms are allowing it to spread beyond the Colorado-Wyoming focus area. "That's how scrapie got spread around," says Pringle, who operates
the Mad Cow Disease home page for the Sperling Foundation. "They brought in (infected) Suffolk sheep from England (in the 1940s). They were buying and
selling them all over, then pretty soon you have it in 39 states."
Chris Carrel freelances from Federal Way, Wash.
YOU CAN ...
Contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife at 303/297-1192;
Contact Tom Thorne at the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish at 307/777-4586;
Contact Beth Williams, University of Wyoming Department of Veterinary Sciences, at 307/742-6638.
Find a comprehensive source of news articles and scientific articles about TSEs on the Mad Cow Disease home page at http://mad-cow.org.
Read two recent books, which provide excellent background information on TSE disease: Deadly Feasts by Richard Rhodes (HarperCollins, 1997), and
Mad Cow, USA: Could the Nightmare Happen Here? by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton (Common Courage Press, 1997).
January 27, 2001, 09:09 AM
As far as prions go, it is correct that they are basically just a protein. The problem is that the protein is not denatured by cooking. That is the reason that sheep may not be picked up for rendering...a scrapie infected individual could pass the infection through the meat meal.
January 27, 2001, 04:54 PM
Colorado Div. of Wildlife has STOPPED collecting deer and elk heads shot in colorado, this is true for whitetails, mule deer and elk. The "outbreak" was NEVER confirmed in large numbers, nor was the prion based disorder linked to sheep populations grazing in the wild.
The "outbreak" was in a CAPTIVE elk population and there was some fear that it could spread to area deer in the Cache La Poudre river drainage. Trust me people I've researched the HELL out of this subject in 97-98.
Rubber gloves aren't a bad idea when dressing any game.
Colorado Div. of Wildlife has a lot of info on this as will any web search covering "chronic wasting disease" or "bovine spngiform encephilitis" (mad cow disease).
Hope this clears up any fears...
January 27, 2001, 05:59 PM
considering the outbreak came from farmed animals,
i wonder what was in their feed?
January 28, 2001, 05:05 PM
I learned about these buggers while studying for my BS in biology. Formaldehyde doesn't seem to kill them, gloves also don't seem to keep them out, as there's a prion disease that seems pretty prevalent among neurosurgeons called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. From what I've read, prions are commonly found around the CNS (central nervous system). This is from what I remember in my Microbiology class, so there's got to be others out there that know more than this on this forum.
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