MAR 03, 2019 01:11 PM PST

Is Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer and Elk a Threat to Humans?

WRITTEN BY: Dena Aruta

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk (cervids) has been rapidly spreading across North America and has also been found in Korea and Europe. CWD is an infectious and fatal neurodegenerative disease, also known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, caused by prions. Prions are misfolded infectious proteins that reside in central nervous system tissues including the brain, spinal cord, and eyes. Transmission of these prions only occurs through handling or eating the affected nervous system tissues. It cannot be spread from person-to-person by touch or in the air. Scrapie and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) are the most well-known of the prion diseases. 

BSE or mad cow disease was first reported in 1996 by the UK and has been strongly linked through epidemiology and laboratory testing as the causal agent of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans. There have been 26 cases of BSE in North America reported by CDC surveillance from 1993 to 2018. Since vCJD was first reported in 1996, there have only been 231 cases worldwide with three of them related to blood transfusions. 

Because chronic wasting disease is spreading rapidly and there is a significant potential for human exposure to affected animals, the ability of the disease to infect humans has become a much-debated issue. Barria et al. analyzed prions from tissue collected from elk, white-tailed deer, and reindeer in North America and used a cell-free seeded protein microfolding assay to determine if they can convert the human prion protein to a disease-associated form.  Their data showed that the prions could be converted; however, there is variability in the efficiency of conversion related to polymorphism in both the cervid and human prion protein genes. It's clear that further research needs to be done to more definitively determine if humans can develop this disease.

About the Author
  • After earning my Bachelor of Science degree in biology/chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Va. Tech), I went on to complete clinical rotations in laboratory medicine at Roanoke Memorial Hospital. I spent the next 21 years working in healthcare as a clinical microbiologist. In 2015, I combined my fascination with medicine and passion for writing into a freelance career, and I haven't looked back. Even though my expertise is in microbiology and infectious diseases, I'm adept at writing about any medical topic. Being a freelance writer allows me to pursue a career where I can work at home with my two feline assistants, Luke and Grace. I'm a firm supporter of animal rights and volunteer for a local rescue during my free time. 
You May Also Like
DEC 11, 2019
Health & Medicine
DEC 11, 2019
Sherlock's DNA biosensors set to make diagnostics elementary
The anxious wait to receive results from expensive diagnostic laboratory tests could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a technological breakthrough. En...
DEC 11, 2019
Technology
DEC 11, 2019
Can Virtual Reality Advance Art Therapy?
Virtual reality (VR) has been a rapidly expanding field with a broad spectrum of applications in health care and medicine. Recent studies have examined if...
DEC 11, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
DEC 11, 2019
Depression is Not Caused By Genetics
Since the discovery of DNA, attributing the cause of illnesses to genetic reasons became trendy. Depression was no exception- with hundreds of studies havi...
DEC 11, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
DEC 11, 2019
Is Cannabis Helping America Sleep?
Researchers find cannabis is being used as a sleep-aid in Colorado. Many Americans struggle with sleep disturbances -- some estimates put the percentage at...
DEC 11, 2019
Cancer
DEC 11, 2019
Is there an association between smoking marijuana and cancer?
The controversy with marijuana is only likely to continue as research studies try to understand if marijuana use is associated to an increased risk of canc...
DEC 11, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
DEC 11, 2019
Increased Cannabis Use Associated with Depression in U.S.
More than 700,000 people ages 12 and older responded to a survey assessing cannabis use, depressive status, and perceptions of risk associated with cannabi...
Loading Comments...