Disease could infect humans

October 20, 2002 St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, MN) by Michael Greger, M.D.

I was in London when the big inquiry into the mishandling of the mad cow affair was finally released. The headline in The Times summed up the whole report. The headline read: "Lack of proof led to disaster." By the time it was proved that people could indeed get the disease and die from eating infected beef, it was too late.

Federal and state bureaucrats in the United States are making the same risky gamble with chronic wasting disease.

Last week, the world learned that the British mad cow epidemic was underestimated by about a million cattle, and that tons of mad cow infected meat found its way into school lunches in a period of up to 15 years.

Nobody knows exactly how many people have already been infected in Britain and are incubating the human equivalent of mad cow, a disease Britain's Health Secretary has dubbed the "worst form of death imaginable." Thousands of people are expected to die.

We may be facing a similar epidemic in the United States. Those who say there is no evidence chronic wasting disease can transmit to humans are simply behind the times.

State officials continue to wave around an outdated quote from the World Health Organization, which stated years ago that "at this time there is no evidence to suggest that CWD in deer and elk can be transmitted to humans."

Since then, experimental evidence has been published showing that prions taken from chronic wasting diseased animals are indeed able to infect and convert human proteins to the deadly form in a test tube. In fact, the "mad deer" to human infectivity rate was found to be as high as the mad cow to human infectivity rates.

We know people can die from mad cow disease; this evidence suggests humans can die from chronic wasting disease as well.

This study was published in the September 2000 issue of the journal of the European Molecular Biology Organization published by Oxford University.

The reason I tell my patients not to eat venison is none of the tests for chronic wasting disease we have is 100 percent. Even if a state lab fails to detect CWD in the sample, it does not guarantee that the meat is safe because the tests can't pick up the disease in its early stages.

Last week, the Medical Society of Milwaukee County recommended stricter regulation of meat processors. They cited the above study, pointing out that "laboratory experiments have shown human tissue can become infected by CWD proteins in test tubes."

In response, a Wisconsin state lawmaker echoed the cheap public relations spin that Departments of Natural Resources have been spouting across the country: "CWD is not a disease that affects people - this is a disease that affects deer."

The medical community is not so sure.

The best available science suggests that transmission of chronic wasting disease to people is not only possible, but probable.

The author spoke Oct 10 at St. Cloud State University. He recommends hunters visit www.maddeer.org for more information.

Times photo by Marsha Haberman, photos@stcloudtimes.com

A doe peeks through the trees. Dr. Michael Greger, a nationally known speaker on mad cow and chronic wasting disease, says he recommends not eating venison because there is not conclusive scientific proof CWD can't be transmitted to humans.

Times photo by Kimm Anderson, kanderson@stcloudtimes.com

Dr. Michael Greger spoke about mad cow and chronic wasting diseases recently at St. Cloud State University.

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