Lazy eyes listen
Researchers in the United States have raised the alarm about an increase in Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) cases among wildlife in North America, warning that the fatal virus could spread to humans.
CWD is caused by prions, which are aberrant transmissible pathogenic agents that modify their host’s brain and nerve systems, leaving the diseased animal drooling, sluggish, stumbling, and staring blankly.
The sickness was described as a “slow-moving disaster” by experts in a recent Guardian investigation. Dr. Cory Anderson, a CWD researcher at the University of Minnesota, noted that the sickness is “invariably fatal, incurable, and highly contagious,” and that once it infects an ecosystem, it is nearly impossible to eliminate. CWD is also resistant, according to scientists.
According to Breanna Ball of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the disease was discovered in 800 samples gathered from deer, elk, and moose across the state last year. According to her, the infection rate was higher this year than in previous years.
Scientists are especially concerned because the disease appears to have spread to Yellowstone National Park in recent months. Dr. Thomas Roffe, former chief of animal health for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, noted that the park’s environment currently supports the richest and most diversified assortment of large wild mammals on the continent.
“It’s a disease that has huge ecological implications,” Roffe said, noting that the failure to curb its spread means that millions of people who visit Yellowstone each year might soon see the consequences of CWD for themselves.
A US Geological Survey published earlier this month claimed that the disease is currently present in 32 states as well as three Canadian provinces.
So far there have been no reported cases of CWD spreading to people, even though up to 15,000 infected animals were estimated to have been consumed by humans in 2017, according to the Alliance for Public Wildlife.
However, epidemiologists in the US and Canada have warned that it could only be a matter of time as the disease is part of a cluster of fatal neurological disorders that includes the infamous mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
In the 1980s and 1990s, a BSE outbreak in the United Kingdom resulted in the slaughter of almost 4 million cattle and the deaths of 178 humans who contracted the human variant of the illness, vCJD, after eating infected meat.
“We’re talking about the possibility of something similar happening. “No one is saying it will happen, but it is important for people to be prepared,” Anderson said.