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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Mad Cow and Wasting Disease

By: Shirley Greene

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That being said, you should be informed that there is wide debate about a series of deaths that occurred in people who hunted deer and elk both in known endemic areas and outside those areas. Of 50 people identified as eating deer and elk at "wild game feasts" in a cabin owned by one of the decedents, two reportedly died of CJD and another died from another form of neurological disease. One decedent had only participated in the feasts on a single occasion. There are many interesting cases in the medical journals and scientists are looking for a variant or atypical type of neurological prion disease to explain these deaths.

Although the CDC suggests that the risk, if any, of transmission of CWD to humans is low, they do recommend that hunters minimize exposure to the CWD prion by:

  • Consulting with state wildlife agencies to identify areas where CWD occurs.

  • Following the advice provided by public health and wildlife agencies.

  • Avoiding eating meat from deer and elk that may look sick or test positive for CWD.

  • Wearing gloves when field-dressing the carcasses and boning-out the meat and minimizing the handling of brain and any spinal cord or other neurological tissues.

    As a precaution, hunters should avoid eating deer and elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent, such as brain, spinal cord, eyes, tonsils, and lymph nodes. Some tissues thought to be negative for the infective agent include liver, bone marrow, skeletal muscle, and skin.

    The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel interviewed one of their local hunters, Kevin McCabe. He was in a quandary about what to do with 200 pounds of venison found to be positive for CWD following testing by the processing plant where he'd left the deer. Although he had field-dressed the animal himself, had he really been careful? Should he listen to the CDC and avoid eating the meat?

    The story continued that, after much consideration, he decided he'd probably just eat the meat himself and not feed it to his family. His children vetoed that idea. So, he considered turning the 200 pounds of venison into dog food. Prior to bringing part of the meat home, Mr. McCabe consulted his wife, a veterinarian. She told him in no uncertain terms to keep the venison off their property – period.

    Well known chef and cookbook author, Sara Dickerman, says: " Until I know more, venison from New Zealand, where every animal is tested and there's not been a single case of CWD, seems more appealing-and possibly safer-than home grown from the United States."

    I'd like to know how the processing plant properly disposed of that venison. How do you safely get rid of CWD contaminated meat when no one knows whether those disease-causing prions remain in the soil? How long are prions in the soil a danger? And, can deer and elk become ill from the soil, alone, rather than from other animals?

    Folks often allow their dogs to chew on antlers. Now, that may be something you want to research and rethink, or perhaps discuss with your veterinarian health care provider. Although it is thought to be extremely unlikely that your dogs could ever become ill, could those antlers possibly contaminate fresh soil, thus exposing greater numbers of the cervid family to infection?

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