Friday, March 10, 2006

Hunter beware

As Kansas Wildlife officials announce that Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in a deer shot near Pratt, Science reports Prions in Skeletal Muscles of Deer with Chronic Wasting Disease. While the work in Science relies on transgenic mice (abomination!), the results suggest that there is a theoretical possibility that muscle tissue from infected deer could be contagious. Whether CWD can infect humans remains unclear, though no evidence of such transmission seems to exist to date.

The Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance has some simple safety precautions that would prevent accidental infection (if such infections are possible).

CWD is caused by a prion, a misfolded protein which is capable of replicating itself by forcing normally folded versions of the protein to refold. If you're a Vonnegut fan, think of ice-9 in Cat's Cradle. The mode of transmission in deer and elk remains unclear, but it's probably dietary, as it is in "mad cow disease," scrapie, and Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. Once it starts spreading, it causes nerve cells to degenerate, leading to the spongy part of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (the fancy name for mad-cow).