Did wild game feasts lead to fatal brain disorders?
July 21, 2002 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Did wild game feasts lead to fatal brain disorders?
BSE/CJD comes to Middle America. How much of a threat is this to the rural, huntin', shootin', fishin' lifestyle?
Or is it just as much a threat to your average carnivore? More inside >>>
posted by dash_slot- (23 comments total)
Dennis Maki, a professor of medicine and an infectious disease expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said he believes that if chronic wasting disease spreads among Wisconsin's deer herd, it's only a matter of time before the disease spreads to people...."We eventually will see cases (in humans)," he said....In 1986, a study involving 26 CJD patients by researchers at Temple University and the National Institutes of Health found that exposure to deer through a hobby such as hunting resulted in up to a ninefold increased risk for CJD..."I'm just a little guy out here in the woods who has suspicions," said the semiretired Chetek family physician. "There is something unusual."

I know we're all gonna say 'it's only a statistically small sample', but every public health disaster begins with a small vector (Patient Zero, anyone?), though it takes time and careful research to ascertain the lessons necessary for future prevention. It also means - without doubt - we all need to become more aware of what we consume - not just those in 'high-risk' groups.

posted by dash_slot- at 6:49 PM on July 21, 2002

I think this belongs in that other thread:

"Culinary preparations include scrambling the brains with eggs or putting them in a meat and vegetable stew referred to as 'burgoo,' "

That's got to be one of the most digusting (and now, it appears, dangerous) things I've ever heard of....
posted by jaded at 7:27 PM on July 21, 2002

Oops... misattributed part of that quotation above: Fred Bannister is the semiretired Chetek family physician, a small-town doctor who knew all three men and took part in the wild game feeds; he said "There is something unusual" and "a thorough investigation of the case is needed." Sorry.

Also, my reference to Patient Zero should not be seen as a hidden homophobic attack (as I'm sure all who've read my posts to appropriate previous threads will know): it is a known theory about the spread of HIV in the relatively early days (emphatically not the genesis) of the epidemic, as it approached 'critical mass'.
posted by dash_slot- at 7:29 PM on July 21, 2002

This stuff is just plain scary. I mean, viruses are creepier than bacteria (which are bad enough), and now we've got prions which don't even have DNA.

Are there any medicines or anything we can throw at prions? Or are we completely helpless?

Geez, I hope not.

Otherwise, you're going to see a whole lot of people becoming vegetarians if we start to get outbreaks. Yuck.
posted by beth at 7:41 PM on July 21, 2002

I still think the prion theory is weak. Replication without nucleic acid seems to run counter to everything we know about reproduction, even in virii, at this time.

Of course, that's just semantics. CJD and its variants will kill you just as dead whether their transmission methods are explainable by current science or not.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:52 PM on July 21, 2002

The Rocky Mountain News printed a much longer, much more in-depth survey of CWD, including theories on how it started.

Some scientists think it started in the 70s when sheep infected with scrapie were unnaturely penned-in with deer. The deer were later released.
posted by raaka at 8:13 PM on July 21, 2002

Regardless: Does this mean we're going to get rid of Ted Nugent?
posted by nathan_teske at 8:30 PM on July 21, 2002

I think the Prince of Volume is already showing signs of, um, altered brain function...
posted by websavvy at 8:33 PM on July 21, 2002

Based on my understanding of what a prion is, it's not alive. It's even less alive than a virus. It could more accurately be described as a catalyst. My guess is that it's not some sort of disease gone awry (like HIV is considered to be), but rather a chemical accident.

and beth: there is no known method of destroying prions. They have, if I recall correctly, survived everything we thrown at them.

Most of my understanding of them comes from this article at disinfo.com. It's a long article with lots of references.

(For those of you familiar with disinfo - they're not always completely insane.)
posted by jaded at 8:49 PM on July 21, 2002

Leave the Motorcity Madman alone, websavvy! I for one think the man rocks.

Plus this is the best. cookbook title. ever.
posted by jonmc at 9:07 PM on July 21, 2002

I know this is insensitive but, as someone who despises hunters who hunt for the fun of killing (as opposed to those who hunt for needed food), I hope this might send the right message to would-be "sports" hunters.

Tomorrow one of my nephews is going on safari to South Africa with his father. He didn't want to go, but as he's lived most of his life with his stepfather and mother, he gave in to his father's pressure. He's a sensitive kid and I really feel for him.

All the mad cow and prion scares - mostly felt here in Portugal and in the UK - has something to do with cattle being fed the remains of...cattle.

My point is - I'd prefer to leave God out of this - that some animals are just not fucking supposed to eat other animals. As my grandmother would say, "it's unnatural".
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:19 PM on July 21, 2002

Surely this'd affect "fun" hunters less, miguel. They would be less likely to eat what they kill.
What are you still allowed to shoot in Africa nowadays?
posted by Catch at 9:57 PM on July 21, 2002

A prion is like very, very slow acting Ice-9.
posted by dws at 9:59 PM on July 21, 2002

First, Patient Zero rhetoric is a huge overstatement of the risk, dash_slot. CJD is not transmittable from one human to another, unless you're Hannibal Lecter. (To a vast approximation, the more fatal the disease, the less virulent it is. The most successful disease -- thinking in evolutionary terms -- is one that can spread to the maximum population and stay there reproducing. By this measure, rhinoviruses are very successful. Flus are very successful in jumping from one population, e.g. poultry, to another, humans. Ebola isn't. The people, and outbreaks, die quickly.) The scary part about CJD is how silent it is, and how untraceable -- by the time you know you have it, that venison meal you had has washed down the river to Mississippi and grown a dozen corn crops.

Wisconsin's response to the CWD threat has been halting, with the state banning deer feeding and holding a hunt just to thin the herd< ?a>. The hope is that individual herds will fragment and CWD will stay isolated.
posted by dhartung at 10:10 PM on July 21, 2002

Surely this'd affect "fun" hunters less, miguel. They would be less likely to eat what they kill.
What are you still allowed to shoot in Africa nowadays?

You're quite right, Catch. I got carried away and logic was the first victim. Though it might inhibit hunters who kill wild game because there's a "novelty value" market for it. Or "fun" hunters who justify what they do by saying they give "the meat" to people who need it.

In Africa, perversely because of the welcome effects of conservation, you can shoot a lot of animals - it's almost getting to the Fifties/Hemingway point. Except now it's called "culling" or something. And hunters get to feel like they're helping the environment...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:13 PM on July 21, 2002

In Africa....you can shoot a lot of animals
Huzzah! *dusts off solar topee*
posted by Catch at 10:47 PM on July 21, 2002

I may have been jaded about this once...
posted by y2karl at 11:03 PM on July 21, 2002

dhartung: I always read and respect your posts, which are amongst the best researched - and therefore authoritative - in Mefiland. However, here I disagree with you, and I start with the use of P.Zero.

'...First, Patient Zero rhetoric is a huge overstatement of the risk, dash_slot. CJD is not transmittable from one human to another, unless you're Hannibal Lecter....' Not for nothing are the related group of diseases called Transmissable Spongiform Ecaphalopathies. This is a new type of infective agent - to which almost all of us have been exposed, via consumption, transfusion, vaccination or inhalation:

Carleton Gajdusek, who discovered in 1957 that "kuru" (CJD) in New Guinea was transmitted through cannibalistic practices, and whose work forms the foundation upon which today's TSE research is based, has no doubt of the extreme hazards of bone meal. In Deadly Feasts: Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague, a shocking account of the worldwide spread of TSEs, Gajdusek tells Pulitzer-Prize winning author Richard Rhodes, "'It's made from downer cattle [those most likely to be infected with Mad Cow disease]. Ground extremely fine. The instructions on the bag warn you not to open it in a closed room. Gets up your nose.' The Nobel-laureate virologist who knows more than anyone else in the world about transmissible spongiform encephalopathy looked at me meaningfully: 'Do you use bone meal on your roses?' I told him I did. He nodded. 'I wouldn't if I were you.'"
Who would have conceived of that route to infection? It isn't transmissable in the previously known ways - but it seems to have more ways than your average pathogen. The fact that it has a very long incubation period assists it in it's survival and propogation, as does the similarity of symptoms to other, better known & related diseases. We hardly have started out on this one.
posted by dash_slot- at 11:08 PM on July 21, 2002

dash, point taken. Still, CJD remains extremely rare in humans; and human-to-human vectoring just isn't likely unless the disease changes form or we all become cannibals. It's people! Soylent Green is people!. Frex, the NYT link quotes: Federal health officials calculate that odds of these vaccines passing on disease are between one in 40 million and one in 40 billion doses.

Perhaps I should clarify. This remains an important field of research, and we don't by any means have all the answers. Health officials should be concerned. But the general public doesn't need to worry that there's a fatal, transmissible brain disease; by vast majority, the biggest risk is eating mad-cow meat, so far as anyone has determined. The cases in the original article -- the deer venison eaters -- had a huge cumulative risk, many times higher than the average person. Certainly the risk is there; but the identified cases are low, and the identified causes esoteric. With AIDS, we could hardly stop people having sex, but it's certainly easy to centrally regulate drug manufacturing or meat sales.

Serious, but rare. That's my talking point.
posted by dhartung at 9:05 AM on July 22, 2002

I wasnt really trying to make a serious comparison between the infectivity of the two epidemics, AIDS & TSE - only that from a small, indeed minute, beginning, mass epidemics occur. I advise we don't panic, but take precautions all the same - starting with reading up on it. Some very smart people are very concerned at how big this is gonna get.
posted by dash_slot- at 10:05 AM on July 22, 2002

human-to-human vectoring just isn't likely unless the disease changes form or we all become cannibals.

Prions survive standard autoclaving (the technique used to sterilize surgical instruments). There's enough concern that prion "infection" can be spread via medical instruments that some hospitals go to extra lengths to deal with instruments used on suspected CJD victims.
posted by dws at 1:31 PM on July 22, 2002

human-to-human vectoring just isn't likely unless the disease changes form or we all become cannibals

If you read dash-slot's links carefully, you'll see that some form of non-cannibalistic transimission may already be occuring in wild deer. The articles refer to it vaguely as a "density factor" meaning simply that they dont know - speculations include saliva transfer, infected soil or feces etc. The disease may already be changing form.

Given CJD's long incubation period, how sturdy prions are and how little we do know about its transfer, I think that Patient Zero rhetoric is not an overstatement of the risk. Also, dismissing this as rare is I think to miss the point entirely - that argument can be applied to the early stages of any epidemic or public health crisis.
posted by vacapinta at 1:43 PM on July 22, 2002

The scariest thing about CJD/BSE is the LONG incubation period. Many of us could already be infected and not know it for years.
posted by agregoli at 1:48 PM on July 23, 2002

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