Government spokesmen who assure us that there’s never been a case of Mad Cow Disease in the United States have ignored the fact that a similar disease, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), has infected large parts of the deer and elk population and 3 U.S. hunters are known to have died from it.
Wyoming veterinarian Tom Thorn says, “What we watch for in an affected deer is kind of a hollow look in their eyes, theydrink a lot. They don’t eat very much.” The deer waste away from not eating, which is why the affliction is known asChronic Wasting Disease. As CWD destroys the animals’ brains, they lose their fear of humans, making them more likely to be hunted. An infected animal can look normal in the early stages of the disease.
CWD was first noticed in Colorado in 1967. Mike Miller, of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, says, “What we are seeingis an epidemic occurring in slow motion.” Scientists say CWD is slowing spreading among wild deer and elk in Montana,Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado, where at least 15 percent of the herds are infected.
Hunters are advised to wear gloves when touching animal carcasses, and to avoid eating the parts of the animal where the disease is concentrated: the brain, spinal column, lymph nodes, tonsils, spleen and bone marrow.
Drastic measures were taken when CWD turned up in Montana. Elk on game farms were killed and their bodies wereincinerated. Deer were hunted by helicopter, and their carcasses were tested for the disease.
In Colorado, the hunting season was extended so that more diseased deer would be killed. Hunters in some parts of thestate are required to drop off deer heads for testing. Wildlife officials insist that as long as hunters are informedabout CWD, the disease is not a threat to human health.
Tom Thorn says, “You cannot say with 100 percent certainty that it won’t transmit to people, but there is no evidencethat it will transmit to people.”
Chris Melani, a hunter who lives in Colorado, shot a deer recently, and brought the head in for testing. He was told hewould be notified in 3 weeks if his deer was diseased.
“I didn’t get a notice, so I figured everything was OK with the deer. We started eating it,” he said. He and hispregnant wife also sold some of the meat to a local sausage maker, who then sold it to other customers. The Melani’salso gave sausages to their family for Christmas.
Two months later, Melani received a notice that the deer head he had brought in showed signs of CWD. “I was shocked when I started reading it,” he said. “What’s done is done. You just go on with your life and hope it’s healthy.”
An Oklahoma hunter named Jay Whitlock developed a brain disorder similar to CWD and Mad Cow Disease at the age of 27, that left him unable to move or speak. He died in 1996.
His case, and 2 others, were discussed at a recent government meeting on Chronic Wasting Disease. Although all the victims ate deer meat, their deaths cannot be directly traced to CWD. Whitlock’s widow, Julie, says, “They said we’llprobably never know actually how Jay did get it.”
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