Recently, the Internet has been buzzing with questions about the seriousness of chronic wasting disease (CWD). For long-time readers, you know I’m a data guy, and the data are quite clear on just how serious this disease is.
A 2018 Wisconsin study showed that CWD-positive deer had an annual mortality rate of 69 percent, while those that were CWD-negative had an annual mortality rate of 35 percent. This begs the question, why are people not finding dead deer lying around in the woods? The mortality study I’ve just cited used GPS radio collars, so that when a deer died, the signal stopped moving and the researchers went in and determined the cause of mortality. Some were shot in hunting seasons, some starved, some got pneumonia, some were killed by predators, and some were hit by cars. No matter what the cause, deer with CWD died at almost twice the rate as deer without CWD.
One other study was done in Wyoming. I mentioned it in my March 2017 column, and it showed 68-percent annual deaths for CWD deer and only 24 percent for deer without CWD. Will real data appease the Facebook “experts” who think the states are overreacting to CWD? Probably not, but data don’t lie.
In recent months, those same experts (and many others) have become very excited because Dr. Frank Bastian, an LSU professor of neurosurgery and pathology researcher, says he has a cure for CWD. He believes that a Spiroplasm bacterium rather than a prion causes CWD. Dr. Bastian has published at least 15 scientific papers on transmissible spongiform diseases (i.e. the “prion” diseases like scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans), so he is not a novice in this area.
Reports state that Dr. Bastian will have a vaccine for CWD on deer farms within two years. In an interview in North American Whitetail magazine, Dr. James Kroll pointed out that this is impossible because before a vaccine is registered, there must be data on its safety and effectiveness. That plus other licensing protocols will take years. If all that is successful, and almost all researchers don’t believe it will be, then you could vaccinate deer on game farms and stop the spread of CWD there. But what about in the wild? Even if this Spiroplasm bacterium causes CWD, and even if a vaccine were developed, how would one vaccinate large numbers of wild deer? Probably not possible.
Scrapie first appeared in the United Kingdom in 1947. Since that time, hundreds of researchers have studied scrapie, yet thousands of flocks of sheep have contracted the disease. No cure yet. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) was first described in 1920. Millions of dollars have been spent searching for a cure. Here we are many years later, hundreds of humans have died, and there is still no cure.
There is some ongoing bacterium research, but little compared to the amount spent on prions as the cause of these diseases. Dr. Bastian attributes that to history, where everyone believes prions are the problem and won’t even look at the Spiroplasm theory. He notes that he can cultivate the Spiroplasma taken from a prion-diseased animal and infect a healthy animal, and that animal then gets sick. Is that proof? Maybe, but maybe not.
Many researchers note that bacteria trigger an immune response when it enters the body. Inflammation and fever result, and antibodies are produced to fight the bacteria. That isn’t happening with CWD-positive deer. Wonder why?
In separate experiments, sheep with scrapie and deer with CWD that lived in fenced pastures, were then removed and the habitat “cleaned” with various chemicals, fire, etc. Those decontaminating agents and processes kill bacteria. But when such pastures were subsequently left fallow for several years and healthy sheep and/or deer were then put in there, the sheep all got scrapie and the deer all got CWD. That leaves one to believe that prions are the cause, and not bacteria.
There are other tests that link scrapie, CJD, and CWD to prions and not bacteria, but who knows? Maybe we’ll have a miracle cure. I don’t totally discount Dr. Bastian, and sure hope he is right. If so, in a short two years we should have some answers. Miracles happen, but don’t expect one here.