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Chronic wasting disease (CWD has been detected in wild deer, elk or moose in 24 states in the United States. It is a fatal progressive neurodegenerative illness, which was first identified in the 1960s and has been found in the US and Canada, Norway and South Korea.
- It is a prion disease belonging to the same family as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human prion disease.
- The incubation period is more than one year and some animals may be asymptomatic for years.
- Symptoms when develop include drastic weight loss (wasting), stumbling (lack of coordination), listlessness and other neurologic symptoms. It can make them more aggressive and less afraid of human contact, according to the CDC.
- An animal with chronic wasting disease can spread prions to other animals through direct or indirect contact with bodily fluids such as feces, saliva, blood, or urine.
- There are no treatments or vaccines available for the disease.
The CDC has warned hunters to take precautions around potentially infected animals.
Since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended that it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.
The CDC has advised people not to handle or eat meat from deer and elk that seem sick or have been found dead. It says latex or rubber gloves should be worn when handling the meat and contact kept to a minimum, especially when handling organs such as the brain or spinal cord.
No cases of CWD have been reported in humans so far, but experimental studies have suggested a possible risk to humans and may emerge as a zoonotic disease in the future.
Wildlife disease surveillance may provide information of domestic and wild animal morbidity and mortality, identify changes in patterns of disease occurrence over time, and assist in early detection of disease outbreaks, including those linked to emerging diseases (World Organisation for Animal Health [OIE]).
Surveillance of disease in wild animals is challenging and not easy compared to surveillance in domestic animals. And, not many countries have animal health information systems and surveillance systems for animal diseases.
India has the largest number of deer species in the world. Hunting of all wild animals is banned in India under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, poaching or illegal hunting, killing or capturing of wild animals is still prevalent.
Wild animals serve as major reservoirs for transmission of zoonotic agents to domestic animals and humans.
So, it is important to be aware about the disease and prevent human exposure.
Like Nipah and Zika, could this be another outbreak waiting to happen?
Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
President Elect Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO)
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Past National President IMA