Chronic Wasting Disease

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Chronic Wasting Disease is a highly transmissible, deadly neurodegenerative disease that affects cervids in North America (Belay et al., 2004; Saunders et al., 2012). There are only four types of cervid that are known to get this disease which include elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and moose (Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance). It has been classified has a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), otherwise known as a prion disease (Belay et al., 2004). A prion is an irregular, pathogenic agent that causes abnormal folding of specific proteins called prion proteins. These proteins are mostly located in the brain (Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance). The abnormal folding of this protein causes neurodegenerative diseases in a variety of species including humans, sheep, cattle, and deer (Abrams et al., 2011).
The prion diseases that Chronic Wasting Disease is related to are Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease found in humans, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, and scrapies in sheep (3,4). These diseases are grouped together because they share certain characteristics such as long incubation periods, spongiform changes that are associated with neural loss, and cause failure to induce inflammatory responses (Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance).
An animal infected with CWD will have neural loss, astrogliosis, which is an abnormal increase in the number of astrocytes in the brain, and spongiform lesions (Abrams et al., 2011). The infected particles are spread all throughout the body including the brain, spinal cord, eyes, peripheral nerves, and lymphoreticular tissues (Belay et al., 2004). Most of the infection, however, is located in the Central Nervous System.
How Chronic Wasting Disease first came about is currently unknow...

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...who have hunted in CWD endemic areas to have their deer or elk tested before they consume the meat in order to prevent ingestion of contaminated meat (Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance).
There are currently a number of studies being performed on the potential effects of Chronic Wasting disease on human health. So far, CWD has only been transferred outside of the cervid family in laboratory settings by intracerebral injections. There have not been any cases of increased human prion diseases in CWD endemic areas, nor is there currently any evidence indicating humans can contract the disease. Because of the long incubation period of CWD, more studies and years of follow ups are necessary to fully determine if human health can be affected by this disease. As of now, however, there is no evidence that humans or even other animals are affected by Chronic Wasting Disease.

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