Chronic Wasting

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

One of the world's leading experts says that despite the continuing spread of chronic wasting disease, there is good news coming from expanding research.

Beth Williams of the University of Wyoming says more is being learned all the time about the fatal deer and elk disease. She says it is hoped that is bringing closer a cure or vaccine.

Speaking at an American Pre-Vet Associated National Symposium at Chadron State over the weekend, she said the relation of chronic wasting to mad cow disease has brought additional resources into the research.

In the past several years, chronic wasting has been confirmed in about a dozen states, including Nebraska. It also has been found in Canadian provinces and on game farms in South Korea.

Chronic wasting has never been found in humans or other animal species. Williams says long-term studies in Colorado and Wyoming indicate it is not a threat to cattle.

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Chronic Wasting Disease

  • To date, chronic wasting disease has been found only in members of the deer family in North America. Animals include: Rocky Mountain Elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and black-tailed deer.

  • There is ongoing research to explore the possibility of transmission of chronic wasting disease to other species.

Clinical Signs

  • Most cases of chronic wasting disease occur in adult animals.

  • The disease is progressive and always fatal.

  • The most obvious and consistent clinical sign of chronic wasting disease is weight loss over time.

  • Behavioral changes also occur in the majority of cases, including decreased interactions with other animals.

What Causes chronic wasting disease?

  • The agent responsible for chronic wasting disease has not been completely characterized.

  • There are three main theories on the nature of the agent that causes chronic wasting disease:
    • The agent is a prion, an abnormal form of a normal protein, known as cellular prion protein, most commonly found in the central nervous system.

    • The agent is an unconventional virus.

    • The agent is a virino, or "incomplete" virus composed of nucleic acid protected by host proteins. The chronic wasting disease agent is smaller than most viral particles and does not evoke any detectable immune response or inflammatory reaction in the host animal.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture contributed to this report.


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