GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new study published by researchers at the University of Calgary has found that, while unlikely, it is possible for chronic wasting disease to cross species from deer to humans.
The study was published last month in the science journal “Acta Neuropathologica.”
When studying CWD, the researchers focused on prions — a misshapen protein that triggers the degenerative neurological condition — and transgenic humanized mice — mice that have undergone genetic manipulation to mimic human gene expressions.
When the prions were injected into the brains of these mice, a majority of them developed a “clinical prion disease.”
In an interview with CTV, Dr. Sabine Gilch, the Canadian research chair in prion disease, said it’s not clear if it would translate in an actual real-world setting.
“Even though there is potential to transmit to humans, the barrier is really high. So, it’s not a very efficient process, I would say,” Gilch told CTV.
While Gilch believes it is highly unlikely that it will reach humans, it may be difficult to track CWD if it does make the leap.
“Our data suggest a different clinical presentation, prion signature and tissue tropism, which causes challenges for detection by current diagnostic assays,” the study said.
What remains to be seen is whether CWD could pose a public health emergency if it managed to move from deer to humans. While the prions can spread from deer to deer through feces, saliva, blood, urine and even indirect environmental contact, it’s unknown whether humans would transmit the prions the same way.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported that 25 deer tested positive for CWD last year and 20 positive deer in 2020.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deer with CWD will show several symptoms, including severe weight loss, a lack of coordination, drooling and little fear of people. It is a fatal disorder with no known cure.
If you spot a deer that you believe has chronic wasting disease, contact the DNR.