According to some biologists, American hunters will be in great danger. Indeed, in Colorado and Wyoming, deer and elk suffer from a condition similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy.BSE), chronic wasting (or chronic cachexia). The situation will be comparable to the first days of the outbreak of “mad cow disease” in the UK. Although no case of human spongiform encephalitis has yet been associated with the consumption of deer or elk meat, there is good reason to believe that animal-to-human transmission is possible. Hunting season is in full swing, and some scientists are calling for more action to educate hunters about the issue.
Whether it’s mad cow disease or chronic cachexia, both conditions are believed to be caused by aberrant proteins, infectious prions, that destroy brain tissue, leaving cavities comparable to those of a sponge. When mad cow disease emerged in the UK in the mid-1980s, the public health authorities initially assured that it could not be transmitted to humans. To date, 81 Britons have died from an encephalopathy they thought they contracted from eating contaminated meat, and it is too early to predict the number of victims of the disease. [à l’heure actuelle, 83 cas de décès ont été constatés dans le monde].
“People here are misinformed, or they don’t care”
Chronic wasting occurs on the Wyoming-Colorado border and is estimated to affect 1% of elk and 6-15% of deer. State park officials in both states say not enough is known about the problem to revoke hunting permits. Dr. Mike Williams, a veterinarian with the Colorado Wildlife Department in Fort Collins, is reassuring: “We don’t think it matters much.” Endemic areas are not prohibited from hunting, and there is no need for him to close them. “If people decide to hunt here, that’s their business.” However, reserve directors advise those concerned to avoid obviously sick animals and to use rubber gloves to butcher carcasses, especially brain and nervous tissue, where prions appear to be concentrated. But, according to those familiar with local hunting customs, no one takes such precautions.
“People here are misinformed about the disease, or they don’t care about it,” complained Arnold Hale, a retired store owner who once owned a hunting supplies store in Livermore, Colorado, in a telephone interview. “When you talk to hunters, you find that most of them don’t trust the government. I don’t know anyone who takes precautions.” Kurt Zunker, 28, a probation officer in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and an avid hunter, said: “I’m aware of the situation, but I don’t know all the details. It won’t stop me from hunting.
BSE and chronic cachexia are part of a still poorly understood category of prion diseases, transmissible spongiform encephalitis (IS). Aberrant protein molecules [PrP, protéines du prion] abnormally coiled, which seems to give them the ability to cause disease. In some cases, PrP remains harmless, but is sometimes transmitted through food, blood transfusions, or surgical instruments.
However, transmission is difficult to establish because, in general, humans or animals do not develop disease until long after exposure to pathogenic prions. Thus, until a few years ago, it was believed that each species represents its own form.IS and that these diseases rarely cross the species barrier.
Yet in 1996, young Britons began to die from a particularly devastating form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The interspecies barrier collapsed. Until then, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease had only been diagnosed in the elderly. However, tests soon showed that we were experiencing a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD) from eating meat from cattle contaminated withBSE. In recent months, researchers have found that the hamster prion over-replicates in mice without causing symptoms of the disease. However, it was believed that such a prion could in no case pass from one species to another. In other words, mice can be healthy carriers of hamster disease. When successive generations of mice are exposed to the blood or nerve tissue of their healthy host relatives, they become infected with the disease. Other in vitro experiments in the United States generally show that chronically cachexic deer or elk prions can convert healthy human prions into pathological prions after slow but sure evolution.
Thus, it has now been scientifically demonstrated that chronic malnutrition can be transmitted to humans. But the leaders of the reserves do not want to hear anything: first things first. This is explained by Dr. Tom Pringle, a biologist in Eugene, Oregon, who has closely followed IS in the world and independently studies the disease.
According to him, most Americans are unaware of the real danger of these diseases. It is extremely difficult to destroy pathogenic prions that come into contact with surgical instruments. It won’t stop a “tired, cold, hungry, drunk” hunter from chopping off a deer’s head, manipulating the animal’s spinal cord, then “sheathing a hunting knife,” he continues. Then this knife can become a formidable carrier of the disease.
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