CBS National News on Mad Deer Disease in USA

Subject: Wasting Away In The West (2 of 3) & 1/30/01 CBS News

http://www.cbsnews.com/now/story/0,1597,268241-412,00.shtml

CBS NEWS BROADCAST, Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Wasting Away In The West

* Disease Similar To Mad Cow Is Affecting Wild Deer, Elk In U.S.
* Chronic Wasting Disease Is In Wild Herds In Neb., Colo., Wyo.
* The Disease Was First Noticed In Colorado In 1967

(CBS) In the second report in a three-part series, CBS News
Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports on a mad cow-like disease that
destroys the brain and is killing deer and elk in the American West.
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Although there's never been a case of mad-cow disease reported in the
United States, a very similar disease that destroys the brain is killing
deer and elk in the American West and it's spreading.

Wyoming state veterinarian Tom Thorn said that mad cow disease drew a
lot of attention to it. "What we watch for in an affected deer is kind
of a hollow look in their eyes, they drink a lot. They don't eat very
much."

They waste away, which is why the always-fatal disorder is called
Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD. The animals also behave strangely,
losing their fear of humans as CWD destroys their brains. But an
infected animal can look totally normal in the early stages of the
disease, when an autopsy can detect it.

CWD was first noticed at a Colorado research facility in 1967. Mike
Miller with the Colorado Division of Wildlife told a government
committee recently, "What we are seeing is an epidemic occurring in slow
motion."

Scientists say the epidemic is slowly spreading among wild deer and elk
in Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado, where at least 15 percent of some
wild herds are infected. It's also been found on game farms in five
states and one Canadian province.

In a video produced by wildlife officials in Colorado and Wyoming,
hunters are told, "relatively little is known about chronic wasting
disease." And they're warned to wear gloves and avoid touching or eating
parts of the animal where the disease is concentrated: the brain, spinal
column, lymph nodes, tonsil, spleen and bone marrow.

When it was detected in Montana, drastic measures were taken. Scores of
game farm elk were incinerated. Dozens of deer on nearby land were
hunted by helicopter, killed and tested to keep this highly contagious
disease from spreading.

Hunters are being used to control the spread of CWD in the wild. In
Colorado the hunting season was extended this year in some disease areas
as a way to try and lower the diseased animal population. Hunters in
some sections of the state must drop off deer heads for CWD testing.
Testing is voluntary in Wyoming and Nebraska.

Wildlife officials insist that as long as hunters are informed about CWD
and take precautions, the disease is not a human health threat.

Thorn argues, "You cannot say with 100 percent certainty that it won't
transmit to people, but there is no evidence that it will transmit to
people."

When asked if he was concerned about CWD, Thorn said, "No. I've lived
here quite a long time. I've hunted here. I just have not seen any
credible evidence that it's going to kill me or anybody else.

Despite all the official assurances, some hunters and their families
fear eating diseased meat could infect them with the same fatal brain
disorder that's killing deer and elk.

"I've hunted in this area and I've been eating deer all my life," said
Chris Melani, who shot a deer in Colorado and, as required, turned in
the head for testing. He says he was told he would be notified within
three weeks if his deer had the disease.

"I didn't get a notice so I figured everything was ok with the deer. We
started eating it," he said.

Melani, and his then-pregnant wife Deb, also sent some of the meat to a
sausage maker who sold it to other customers. The Melani's gave their
sausage to friends and family as Christmas presents. Then, almost two
months after his hunt, Melani received a letter.

"I was shocked when I started reading it, recalls Melani.

His deer had CWD.

"What's done is done. You just go on with your life and hope it's
healthy," Melani said.

But Jay Whitlock didn't get to go on with his life.

Jay, an Oklahoma hunter, was 27 when he developed a brain disorder
similar to CWD and mad cow disease.

Julie Whitlock said, "Jay's case is not genetic. They have ruled that
out. And they said we'll probably never know actually how Jay did get
it."

Jay Whitlock died a year after CBS News spoke with him.

His case, and two others, were discussed at a recent government meeting
on Chronic Wasting Disease.

Although the victims ate deer meat, scientists could not link their
deaths to CWD.

Dr. Ermias Belayof the CDC told the FDA panel, "However, our conclusions
are limited to three patients and continued surveillance remains very
critical to continue to monitor the possible transmission of chronic
wasting disease to humans."

There is evidence, at least in the lab, that in rare cases this disease
can alter human brain tissue, almost as effectively as mad cow disease.

The government says, so far, there is no proof any humans have been
infected by deer and elk. But after the deaths in Europe, no one is
willing to say it can't happen here.

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