New research suggests chronic wasting disease in deer could some day morph into a different disease that would affect humans.
The study concluded that such a jump is not imminent, but it could become more likely if CWD-infected prions continue to accumulate in the soil where diseased deer live. A January 2011 edition of The Journal of Biological Chemistry published results from a study backing this up. D&DH obtained and analyzed the study.
During the study, lab scientists were able to transmit CWD from infected cervids (whitetails, mule deer, etc.) into lab mice. The mice were engineered to have brains with human characteristics. This suggests it is possible for CWD to also transmit from infected cervids into humans.
But there's a catch. The scientists could only make the transmissions successful in vitro. They could not make CWD make the jump "naturally" into the mice. It took several attempts to find the right CWD strain suitable to make the transmission. This indicates a "strong species barrier" between humans and CWD-infected cervids.
"We cannot rule out that the type of CWD strain adaptation that is required to produce strains transmissible to humans may take much longer time in cervids or not occur at all," the study said.
So what's this mean for deer hunters? Given the right conditions, CWD could someday infect humans. The more CWD strains that develop, the higher the chance those conditions will be met.
However, that chance is low. Unless hunters seek out scientists who will intentionally infect them with CWD in a controlled laboratory setting, that "strong species barrier" should keep them protected from the disease.
To read the study for yourself, click here.