USA and Europe worried enormously by CWD spread

The disease can be transmitted intraspecies and cases are increasing

by Lorenzo Ciotti
USA and Europe worried enormously by CWD spread
© Andrew Redington / Staff Getty Images

Chronic wasting disease is a disease that affects adult cervids between the ages of 3 and 5 years. It is part of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which is commonly known as mad cow disease and is caused by a prion.

US and Europe are greatly concerned about CWD spread, especially as cases of the disease that can be transmitted intraspecies appear to be on the rise in early 2024.

First isolated in 1967 in the United States in a mule deer in northern Colorado, it is a lethal disease that leads to the death of the animal within 8 months. Just in the United States, CWD affects mule deer, white-tailed deer, red deer, sika deer, moose, caribou and reindeer. Symptoms are excessive salivation, weight loss, behavioral changes.

Studies have shown the risk of the possibility, not certainty, that the disease can also infect non-human primates fed with meat, in particular the brain, or which have come into contact with body fluids of diseased animals apparently in good health at the time of death, squirrels and mice modified in the laboratory.

Most cases of chronic wasting disease develop in the cervid family; the youngest animal tends to show clinical symptoms of the disease within 15 months, but may remain dormant for a few years. The disease is progressive and always fatal, highly contagious and deadly to the brain.

The first signs are difficulty moving and the most obvious clinical sign is weight loss over time, which can also be seen with the eye. Behavioral changes also occur in most cases, including decreases in interactions with other animals, listlessness, droopy head and ears, emaciation, tremors, repetitive walking in set patterns, and nervousness.

Deer© Andrew Redington / Staff Getty Images

USA and Europe worried enormously by CWD spread

Excessive salivation and teeth grinding are also observed, in addition to the problems that the disease causes on a neurological level. The APHIS summarizes the disease with the following diseases: behavioral changes, emaciation, weakness, ataxia, salivation, aspiration pneumonia, progressive death.

The most worrying aspect of this devastating disease is precisely the possibility of the so-called species jump, with transmission to humans and consequences that cannot currently be predicted.

Experts believe it may be possible, as happened in the past with mad cow disease. No cases have yet been detected in humans, but the explosive spread of the disease and contact between deer and humans, as well as the consumption of infected meat, could trigger the fuse at any time.

The potential dangers were explained by Samuel J. White and Philippe B. Wilson, two researchers from the University of Nottingham, who published an article in The Conversation.

There are currently no treatments or vaccines for prion diseases including CWD. They are incurable and fatal. Clearly, we remind you once again, in the case of chronic wasting disease no cases of transmission to people have been reported and we do not yet know if (and how) this disease will represent a real risk to human health.