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UK Researcher Pinpoints Chronic Wasting Disease Transmission

University of Kentucky researcher Glenn Telling’s study of infectious prions in deer with chronic wasting disease (CWD) is the subject of a story in a recent edition of the prestigious journal Science. Prions are proteins that naturally exist on the surface of nerve cells in the brain of every human and animal, but that somehow change shape and cause damage.

CWD is a neurological disease of deer and elk that produces small lesions in the brains of infected animals. It is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep, usually fatal diseases affecting the nervous system and marked by intense itching and loss of muscular control.

The study found the disease is transmitted by animals’ blood and saliva, raising concern about animal-to-animal contact with the infected fluids. CWD is known to be transmissible between animals; however, until this study, the exact mode of transmission wasn’t known. Although the spread of CWD to humans has not been reported, scientists believe it is possible.

For more about Glenn Telling’s research on prions, see “Beware the Shape Shifter” in the Spring 2003 Odyssey.—Jeff Worley

Entire In Brief section as PDF