A new study confirms that people and animals dying of prion disease are contaminating the environment around them with a deadly and unstoppable protein found in their bodily fluids, including their urine and feces. Wastewater treatment plants can’t neutralize the deadly form of protein known as a prion.
Claudio Soto, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the George and Cynthia W. Mitchell Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Brain Related Illnesses at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, and his colleagues recently found deadly and infectious prions in urine. The study has been published in the August 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Unfortunately, other researchers have found prions in all bodily fluids of victims, which is extremely bad news for caregivers, family members and others in the community who are caught in the crossfire.
The good news is that the research offers hope for earlier diagnosis among the millions of people impacted around the world. The discovery can promote earlier intervention and better disease management. It also can help develop screens to protect our blood supplies from donors with prion disease.
The bad news is that prions in urine and feces underscore the environmental nightmare associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and prion diseases among livestock and wildlife. Although there are many causes for prion disease, many people and animals are contracting it from environmental exposure (food, water and soil) and then contaminating the environment even more with their own bodily fluids. Once victims die, carcasses also contaminate soil and water.
“This is the first time that prions have been detected in human urine,” Dr. Soto told Neurology Today.
Soto failed to reference urine and blood studies performed earlier by Ruth Gabizon in 2001 and Reichl in 2002. These studies also detected prions in bodily fluids. Despite that detail, Soto’s findings can help focus global attention on the exploding prion problem.
In June 2012, Prusiner confirmed that Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and even ALS are prion diseases, if not identical, to CJD in people, mad cow disease in livestock and chronic wasting disease in wildlife. The variations in disease progression could be due to genetics in the patients or mutations in the prion, not different diseases entirely.
Additional research has determined that the prion pathogen spreads through skin, feces, saliva, blood, milk, soil, water and the tissue of infected animals and humans. If a single person with prion disease discharges bodily fluids or feces into a public sewer system, that sewage system is permanently infected and the amount of contamination will multiply and intensify daily. Everything discharged from that sewage system—reclaimed water and biosolids—can spread the contamination even further.
Once a prion reaches the soil, that soil is permanently contaminated and the entire watershed below that point is at risk forever. If your food and water is generated in that watershed, you have a higher risk of contracting prion disease.
“There has been a resurgence of this sort of thinking, because there is now real evidence of the potential transmissibility of Alzheimer’s,” says Thomas Wiesniewski M.D. a prion and Alzheimer’s researcher at New York University School of Medicine.
With the help of weather, prions can migrate through wind and water. Rain and snow can rinse them into surface water, groundwater, streams, ponds, lakes, and oceans. Wildlife, livestock and humans can ingest prions from soil, water and food. We can’t afford to take the risk of further contaminating entire watersheds – increasing the pathway to humans, livestock, and wildlife downstream.
Because of these factors and others, we have an epidemic of prion disease around the world right now. The epidemic is worse in some regions of the world than others. For example, the death rate for Alzheimer’s disease is higher in Finland than any other country in the world. Iceland and the United States are runners up. In fact, the death rate for Alzheimer’s is higher in Washington state than any other known region in the world. Norway has the highest death rate from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). These vast discrepancies can only be explained by environmental factors, including food, water and air pathways. Sewage disposal that contaminates local food and water supplies is likely part of the problem.
The scientific name for prion disease is Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.” TSEs include Alzheimer’s disease, mad cow, CJD, chronic wasting, Huntington’s, scrapie and possibly Parkinson’s. This transmissible family of disease is unstoppable for many reasons. In addition, once items are exposed to victims of prion disease, they can never be sterilized again.