Biologists from the Indiana Div. of Fish and Wildlife will collect the heads of 3,000 deer bagged in the upcoming deer hunting seasons in an attempt to find evidence of Chronic Wasting Disease present in Indiana’s deer herd.

As was reported in this column earlier this year, CWD has now been identified in deer or elk in ten states, the most recent being Wisconsin and Minnesota. Wisconsin natural resource officials recently warned that CWD-infected deer may have been transported from a wildlife management area to every county in the state, and, perhaps, beyond state lines.

CWD is transmitted by contact with infected animals or by living in an infected environment; therefore, Wisconsin officials are primarily concerned about where and how carcasses from the infected area in southwestern Wisconsin were disposed of in other areas.

Wasting disease is very similar the infamous "Mad Cow Disease" which devastated cattle herds in England in recent years. Thousands of cattle were destroyed there after the disease, called Creutzfeldt-Jakob in humans, was identified in human deaths.

CWD and CJD are members of a family of diseases called "transmissible spongiform encephalopathies." Both diseases are related to the infamous "kuru" disease found among a tribe of New Guinea cannibals in the 1950s. Tribe members ate the brains of their honored dead. According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times on March 12, 2001: "This newly discovered ‘brain assassin,’ as one researcher called it, was called a prion (pree-on). The disease it caused in the Fore people is Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, or CJD. It killed more than 2,000 tribe members before a ban on cannibalism halted it."

The prion that causes these diseases cannot be killed in conventional ways, because it is not actually a living thing, but a protein that invades genetic material. It lodges in the brain and/or spinal cord and eventually causes holes to appear in brain tissue. Human victims of CJD or kuru display a smiling and laughing behavior that may be diagnosed as dementia.

"Death records show that 15 people in Florida died of the classic form of the disease in 1999. In 1997 there were 22 Florida deaths blamed on classic CJD. And the actual numbers may be higher. A common symptom of classic CJD is dementia, and some fear the illness is routinely misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's disease," said the St. Petersburg Times article.

That article quoted Michael Hansen, a research associate at the Consumer Policy Institute of the U.S. Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports. He said that while no link between the CJD cases found in the U.S. and meat products has been proven, there is cause to worry. "You can’t assume that all cases of classic CJD are being reported. The families of the victims will tell you that it's a struggle to diagnose CJD, that it is often mistaken for other forms of dementia such as Alzheimer's disease. They will tell you that the autopsies (needed to confirm CJD) are seldom done."

While no mad cow disease has been found in American beef cattle, CWD from deer or elk may have been transmitted to three Wisconsin men. Two hunters who ate deer and elk and one non-hunter who ate deer have died from CJD, according to the U.S Dept. of Agriculture.

According to wire service reports, "The deaths of the three outdoorsmen from brain- destroying illnesses are under investigation by medical experts who want to know whether chronic wasting disease has crossed from animals into humans, just as mad cow disease did in Europe.

"The men knew one another and ate elk and deer meat at wild game feasts hosted by one of them in Wisconsin during the 1980s and '90s. All three died in the 1990s.

Investigators want to know whether the deaths were just a coincidence or whether the men contracted their diseases from the meat of infected game."

Back home in Indiana, state biologists will be at deer check stations during peak periods of the archery and firearms deer hunting seasons. They will ask hunters to donate the heads of deer for testing. Deer will be collected from all 92 Indiana counties.

"Hunters take around 100,000 deer each year. There's no way that we can test

all deer, so we will be actively seeking deer from counties throughout the

state to get a statistically accurate sample," said Glen Lange, Chief of Wildlife for the Ind. Dept. of Natural Resources.

According to the Indiana DNR news release on this subject: "Health experts have found no link between CWD and any disease in humans. Lange suggests that if hunters want to take maximum precaution, they can protect themselves by wearing rubber gloves while field dressing, and avoid handling or eating deer brain, spinal cord (backbone), spleen or lymph nodes. To further reduce risk, do not cut into the skull or backbone when processing the meat. Prions, the proteins that are believed to cause the disease, are concentrated in nervous tissue and lymph nodes of infected deer.

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