Chronic Wasting Disease Poses Major Threat to American Deer Population


Chronic wasting disease in free-ranging deer, reported by US county, as of January 2019. CDC

Jordan Larrabee

Throughout 24 states in the U.S., deer have been observed contracting a specific disease that has very strange effects. This disease is called Chronic Wasting Disease and is categorized as a progressive neurodegenerative illness, or one that over time destroys the brain of its victim. It was first discovered and identified in the 1960s and was noted as being similar to Mad Cow disease, where dementia-like symptoms are observed until the animal dies.

To understand the context of the severity of this issue, a look needs to be made into what specifically causes these conditions. Prions are believed to be responsible for Chronic Wasting Disease, and these are pathogenic, non-living interferences cause abnormal folding of brain tissues. This folding leads to eventual death. Because they do not live, they cannot be killed, and spreading has taken place very quickly. Contracting it comes from contact with bodily fluids of a contaminated victim, however the nature of what a prion is enables them to exist for much longer on surfaces such as a forest floor or tree branches. According to Peter Larsen, a professor at the University of Minnesota and someone who has become familiar with the pathogen, explains that the spread of this disease has benefitted from human interference with the transportation of different deer to farms, zoos, and ranches.

Why should people be cautious of this disease? In studies conducted by giving mice, squirrel monkeys, and macaques contaminated meat, scientist were able to infect the animals. In further studies of the threat of transmission, scientists were able to infect transgenic hamsters (hamsters with intentionally manipulated DNA) by getting objects with the pathogenic prions on them and putting them in their cage. These hamsters were confirmed to contract the disease. Recently, a study was published that proved the ability of Chronic Wasting Disease to affect human cells in a petri dish. All these signs point to a strong likelihood that it is able to be transferred over to humans, as all the animals tested are genetically similar in many ways.

Measures to protect yourself from Chronic Wasting Disease include being cautious when hunting deer that appear to be acting oddly, avoiding contact with the inside of the deer, and to test any meat hunted before you consume it.