Many experts are becoming very concerned about a brain wasting disease spreading among cervids like deer, and possible transmission to humans who eat the meat (CBC)

Brain disease spreading among farmed and wild deer

It’s called chronic wasting disease (CWD) and it’s a brain disease similar to “mad cow disease” or spongiform encephalopathy(BSE) .

It has no cure and it’s spreading among deer populations but can also affect caribou, elk, moose. Another brain disease, scrapie, similar to both BSE and CWD can infect sheep. It was thought BSE came from feeding cattle bone meal made from infected sheep. The degenerative and fatal human brain disease Creuzfeldt-Jakob can be acquired by eating infected BSE meat.

So far there are cases of CWD infected animals in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec, some on deer and elk farms, but also in wild animals. In the U.S 26 states have reported cases of CWD.

Cases in the prairie provinces showing both areas of wild deer infections and on deer farm operations. ( Daniel Rofusz-CBC-USGS)

In 2018, about 17 per cent of samples of hunted deer in Saskatchewan tested positive for CWD.  In Alberta, officials tested almost 8,000 deer heads and found the disease in 7.4 per cent of the samples.

Hunters in western provinces are being urged to send in the heads of animals for testing before consuming the meat. (CCFR)

Last year in Quebec a deer farm was found to have 11 infected animals, but in a highly controversial move the remaining 2,777 animals at the farm were released for human consumption, including some young deer that weren’t tested.

In June, some 30 scientists and medical researchers wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and other officials urging immediate action to halt the spread of the disease. “While no human cases of CWD have been confirmed, scientists note that while low, the risk is not zero — and it is evolving. Evidence suggests that CWD conversion is more adaptive than bovine spongiform encephalopathy [mad cow disease], and following efficient transfer to a second species of non-human primates, Health Canada advised that ‘CWD has the potential to infect humans,’

Officials say the symptoms take a very long time to show so a diseased animal may appear totally healthy to hunters who may then consume the meat ( via CBC)

Saying that thousands of hunters and their families are likely already eating infected meat across N. America, they note that, “Even a single transfer to a person — proving that humans are susceptible — would bring catastrophic consequences with limited options.”

While BSE is transmitted through feed, CWD can be transmitted between live animals, through saliva and urine on plants and soil, making it much more difficult to control.

At least one of the researchers said “we’re poised on the edge of a catastrophe”.

Additional information-sources

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