Chronic Wasting Disease: A New Threat To Pennsylvania Deer, No Gun Required

Dinner. Unless he has CWD. Source, Wikimedia Commons, (C) USDA, Agricultural Research Service

This post was originally published at Mind the Science Gap on Nov. 29, 2012.

In early October a deer tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease for the first time in Pennsylvania. The positive result, which was found in a farm herd, resulted in the quarantine of all the deer on the property. Earlier this month, a deer escaped the quarantine and was running free in Pennsylvania. Two days ago that deer was shot and killed to prevent further disease transmission. That doe is still undergoing testing to determine if she was infected. As a result of all of these events unfolding, Pennsylvania has swiftly put plans into action. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is nearly impossible to eradicate once it establishes itself in a population, and in order to save PA’s deer herds, they needed to act fast.

Chronic Wasting Disease is endemic (established in wild populations) in Colorado and Wyoming. It has also been reported in wild herds in Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. CWD has been found in captive herds in other states, such as Iowa. States with no confirmed cases often have CWD task forces and policies to prevent introduction of the pathogen. For example, Washington recently began requiring hunters returning from CWD-endemic areas to undergo testing and processing to remove infectious material.

CWD is a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), a group of disease that includes Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow), Scrapie (a disease commonly found in sheep), Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (a neurodegenerative disease in humans), and Fatal familial insomnia (a disease where protein misfolding results in insomnia which progresses to delusions and eventually death). TSEs are all caused by a pathogenic organism known as a prion. Prions are rather unique in that they are not a virus or bacteria, but a protein with an abnormal structure. These prions can be infectious and transmissible (like CWD and Mad Cow) or inherited (like the fatal insomnia). Continue reading

Food safety: Stuffing the turkey…with disease!

You want to stuff what?! In where?! Source, Flickr creative commons, (C) donjd2

This post was originally posted at Mind the Science Gap on Nov. 22, 2012.

If you’re reading this from the hospital, it may be too late. If you’re feeling a bit queasy after a big meal of turkey, stuffing, and veggies, you may want to eat an antacid before continuing to read.

Stuffing and Disease

Cooking a stuffed turkey has been linked to food-borne illness. The problem stems, not from the inherent danger of stuffing, but from the cross-contamination of stuffing with turkey juices. If the now-potentially-bacteria-laden stuffing does not reach the same internal temperature as the meat (165 degrees F), there is a risk that bacteria from the meat may survive the cooking process.

In 2009, Greig and Ravel analyzed internationally reported foodborne outbreak data for source. 105 outbreaks were attributed to turkey and other poultry (not including chicken) between 1988 and 2005. (It is important to remember in this instance that an outbreak of disease means that more cases are reported than normally expected for that time frame.) These outbreaks included Clostridium perfringens (botulism’s less deadly cousin), Campylobacter (which causes diarrhea, sometimes bloody), E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes (the causative agent of listeriosis, one of the nastier food-borne illnesses. 20-30% of cases result in death), multiple types of salmonella and staph, and norovirus. (I can ensure you that there is no faster way to ruin a holiday than to infect your whole family with norovirus. Or listeriosis. ) Continue reading