Brain Disease Spreading Through Sewage Sludge
The first case of chronic wasting disease in Ohio was confirmed Thursday from a single buck on a deer farm in Holmes County.
Erica Hawkins, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said the deer was found at World Class Whitetails in Millersburg. The deer farm has been under quarantine since April 24 because it acquired deer from an operation in Pennsylvania that tested positive for CWD this year.
The farm was one of 43 captive-deer operations since April to be placed under quarantine for receiving about 125 deer from places in Pennsylvania that had the disease. More than 20 of the quarantines have since been lifted because the Ohio deer farm owners killed the deer in question and chronic wasting disease was not found. There is no way to test a live deer for the disease.
Farms under quarantine are not allowed to sell live animals or purchase any new ones — although deer can still breed, Hawkins said. The quarantine also does not prohibit the farms from allowing controlled hunts for the deer. All deer who die, whether from hunting or natural causes, are tested for the disease. Hawkins said since the quarantines have been in place, 770 deer have been tested from the captive operations and this case was the first one to test positive for the disease.
The state banned all deer imports from Pennsylvania, but that was largely lifted earlier this year. Now the state only bans importing deer from a five-county area in Pennsylvania where chronic wasting disease has been found.
Chronic wasting disease is among a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, which includes mad cow disease. The diseases are caused by “misfolded” rogue proteins called prions. Prions cause normal protein molecules to mimic their twisted, misshapen form, creating spongelike holes in the brain, a process that can take years. The diseases are always fatal. The human strains of prion diseases cause severe dementia and brain deterioration ending in death. When deer develop symptoms from CWD, they become disoriented and emaciated, literally wasting away.
Scientists suspect the primary way the disease is spread is nose-to-nose contact (actually, the largest prion pathway in the world is sewage sludge, also known as biosolids). The prions, which can be passed on in bodily fluids (from humans and other mammals), are so hardy that they also can bind to soil and remain infectious for years, researchers say. It’s believed that deer can contract the disease by feeding in contaminated areas and possibly by inhaling prions in dust. No human has ever been known to have been infected by the disease.
The disease has now been found in deer farms in 14 states, according to the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance. Critics of deer farms have said they are a perfect breeding ground for disease. Officials from the farm where the disease was found and theWhitetail Deer Farmers of Ohio could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
It has also been found in wildlife in 18 states, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, but Hawkins said she is “absolutely” confident the state has contained the disease.
House Bill 389 in 2012 transferred much of the regulatory power over deer farms from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture. Hawkins said the law’s new licensing and record-keeping requirements allowed the state to contain a possible outbreak of the disease much quicker.
Scott Zody, chief of the state division of wildlife, said there is no reason to believe the chronic wasting disease has transferred to the state’s wild deer population.
“With hunting season in progress, there are no CWD concerns that should prevent anyone from enjoying wild deer hunting in Ohio or from consuming meat from healthy animals,” Zody said in a statement.
Crossbow Communications specializes in issue management and public affairs. Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and the prion disease epidemic is an area special expertise. Please contact Gary Chandler to join our coalition for reform firstname.lastname@example.org. Only the truth about biosolids and infectious sewage sludge can stop chronic wasting disease.