Washington, 20 October 2006
Researchers have found that deer pass chronic wasting disease to each other through saliva and blood. Currently, scientists do not know if chronic wasting disease -- a cousin of mad cow disease -- can be passed to humans. It has been found in deer in 14 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
Chronic wasting disease is part of a group of illnesses caused by prions, which are the abnormal form of particular proteins that naturally occur in mammals. When these proteins mutate into prions, they cause rare, fatal brain diseases such as chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people. Typically found only in the brain and spinal cord, these prions were found earlier this year in the muscle tissue of deer as well. Researchers are currently recommending caution for people who handle deer blood and saliva.
The Institute of Medicine report Advancing Prion Science: Guidance for the National Prion Research Program recommends that the National Prion Research Program fund the development of a national surveillance system for chronic wasting disease and expand research into the natural history, prevalence, distribution, exposure and transmission characteristics, host susceptibly, and host range of animal prion diseases, especially chronic wasting disease.