It seems that chronic wasting disease (CWD) may have finally jumped across the ocean. Primarily a disease that is found in North America, the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance announced earlier this month that CWD was detected in a free-range reindeer herd in southern Norway. It is believed to be the first reported incidence of CWD in Europe.
“The sick female reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) was detected in the middle of March 2016 in connection with capture for GPS-collaring using helicopter performed by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA),” stated the Norwegian Veterinary Institute. “It died and the carcass was submitted to the Norwegian Veterinary Institute in Oslo for necropsy and laboratory examinations. It was an adult animal, says wildlife pathologist Turid Vikøren at Norwegian Veterinary Institute, who performed the necropsy.”
It is also the first time that the disease has been found in reindeer. CWD is a contagious neurological disease that affects many species of cervids, like whitetail deer or elk. The disease itself is believed to be caused by prion proteins, which infects other proteins and cause them to fold in abnormal ways. This eventually results in loss of appetite, weight loss, behavioral changes, and excessive urination or drooling in affected animals. CWD is always fatal and in many ways is similar to mad cow disease.
“Do not shoot, handle or consume an elk or deer that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick,” the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance advised on its website. “When field-dressing game, wear rubber gloves and minimize the use of a bone saw to cut through the brain or spinal cord (backbone). Bone out the meat. Minimize contact with and do not consume brain or spinal cord tissues, eyes, spleen, or lymph nodes. Always wash hands thoroughly after dressing and processing game meat.”
Experts have no evidence that CWD affects humans in any way, but since research on the disease is still ongoing, they advise people to avoid contact with animals with the illness.
The discovery of CWD in Europe, while it appears to be an isolated incident, can be worrying. CWD is one of the top concerns for wildlife managers in North America, and it can take a heavy toll on wildlife. If the disease does establish a foothold in Europe, it may be one that biologists across the Atlantic will find very hard to dislodge.