INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
Study to investigate Chronic Wasting Disease's impact
By : By Gail Glover
Researchers at Binghamton University have a first ever opportunity to determine if Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer can be spread to humans who ingest “infected” meat. Ralph M. Garruto, professor of biomedical anthropology, is heading up a study to monitor the health implications for a group of people who are known to have consumed venison infected with CWD. Recently discovered in both wild and captive deer herds in New York, CWD is similar to mad cow disease in that it concentrates in the spinal cord and brain, and is caused by a virtually indestructible mutated protein called a prion.
“We don’t know if CWD can be transmitted to humans,” Garruto said. “So this group, some of whom we know for sure ate infected meat, offers us a unique opportunity. I’m hoping the study will allow us to determine if this disease can affect humans in the same way mad cow disease has been shown to cause neurological disease in those who consume infected beef.”
The study focuses on a group of people who attended a sportsmen’s feast in Verona earlier this year. At least some of the attendees, who had a choice of entrees, consumed venison from a deer infected with CWD. Upon hearing of the dinner, Garruto approached the Oneida County Health Department (OCHD) to determine if it would assist in a scientific examination of the people who ate the meat.
“Although not everyone involved is particularly concerned or fearful, it is important for us to protect the health of all county residents,” said Ken Fanelli, an OCHD representative. “Professor Garruto’s study is a proactive response to determining what, if any, will be the long term health effects, which is one of our most important responsibilities.”
More than 50 people have indicated an interest in being part of the study, which will involve an interview and completion of a questionnaire to help assess risk, including the role played by individuals at the dinner, what they ate, their place of residence, occupation, medical history and other activities. The study will monitor the health of the participants over six years. No invasive testing will be performed and identities will be kept confidential. “The people who take part in this project can be assured that every measure will be taken to ensure their privacy,” Garruto said. “Their contribution is vital to the success of this ‘first of its kind’ research that may hold world-wide significance in the study of CWD and similar prion diseases.”
CWD was first discovered in Colorado in 1967 and has since been documented in several Rocky Mountain and Midwest states. This year, New York became the first state west of the Mississippi to report CWD in both privately owned and wild deer herds found in parts of Oneida County. How the disease is spread from deer to deer and how it may affect the environment in which infected animals graze is unclear.
“We’re looking at an issue that could have multiple impacts,” Garruto said. “Human health and keeping the food supply safe is of primary concern. But we also have to monitor how to keep this epidemic from spreading among deer and across species, from deer to cattle, both of which could have huge economic as well as health implications.”