Chronic Wasting Disease

Although CWD was first identified as a syndrome in the 1960s and the etiologic agent was found to be a spongiform encephalopathy in 1978, there has been a growing public health concern about the condition recently as it has been identified in new areas. CWD was first identified in Colorado and Wyoming over 25 years ago. Since 1996 CWD has been found in Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota in captive elk herds. Additionally, it has been identified in wild deer in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Given the popularity of deer hunting there is concern that CWD could pose a risk to human health as BSE did in cattle over 10 years ago. To date, only three species of mammals are known to be naturally susceptible to CWD: mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), white tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and elk (Cervus elaphus). Cattle and other livestock seem to be resistant (97,100-102).

To date no association has been made between CWD and neuropathologic illness in humans. A 2003 report of fatal neurologic illness in men who participated in wild game feasts concluded that there was no association between CWD and CJD type disease, though continued surveillance for both diseases is warranted. Nonetheless, it is currently advised that animals with evidence of CWD should be excluded from human and animal food chains due to the possibility that the CWD prion could cross the species barrier (103).

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