- An illness similar to mad cow disease
appears to have spread to a captive Nebraska elk herd from elk and deer
in bordering states, according to wildlife researchers.
- Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been
found already in herds of elk and deer in South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado,
and Saskatchewan, Canada. The disease is a form of spongiform encephalopathy
(TSE), connected to the so-called mad cow disease that recently has plagued
the United Kingdom.
- Although researchers say there is no
indication yet that CWD can infect humans -- unlike mad cow disease --
the sickness is of concern. In the midwestern United States, elk and deer
are consumed much like beef is elsewhere.
- Nebraska, along with other states involved,
have drafted emergency guidelines to try and halt the spread of CWD, according
to one wildlife official.
- Agencies in Colorado and Wyoming have
alerted hunters to watch for sick animals. Nebraska will do the same if
they feel there is a danger of CWD infecting the wild herds. The agencies
warn hunters to avoid animals that appear ill, to wear gloves when they
dress out their animals, and to avoid eating the spinal cord and the brain.
- "Of course we don't want people
exposed to something where there could be a potential problem. But, as
far as we know, it can't be transmitted (to humans)," said Dr. Elizabeth
Williams, professor of veterinary sciences at the University of Wyoming.
- Kevin Church, a wildlife research supervisor
with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, says, "It's one of the
emerging concerns among wildlife professionals. The recent discovery of
the disease in South Dakota and now in Nebraska has led wildlifers to express
their concerns about the captive breeding industry."
- CWD has puzzled experts since its discovery
in Colorado thirty years ago. Animals infected with CWD are emaciated,
weak and show behavioral changes. The disease, which causes sponge-like
holes in the brain, can only be diagnosed by examining a dead animal.
- "It's possible this is scrapie (another
variant of TSE found in sheep) that got into the deer; it's possible it's
a sporadic disease ... we really don't know," says Williams.
- One theory set forth by Valery Geist,
a specialist on deer biology and professor emeritus of environmental science
at the University of Calgary, is that elk and deer chew on the bones of
sheep that have been infected with scrapie.