The worrying news was presented at a hearing in the Minnesota Capitol on Thursday, February 7, where a number of University of Minnesota experts pressed lawmakers to treat the disease as a public health issue – a major extension of its present scope as it was mostly a wildlife and hunting concern.
The problem is particularly urgent for Minnesota, where wildlife individuals track the state's largest outbreak of CWD to date in deer in the southeastern state.
No person is known to have become ill from eating or handling a CWD-infected deer.
But scientists have always been cautious about it, because the disease is spread through extremely hardy protein cells, known as prions that resemble biliary disease, which jumped from cows to humans, where it is also fatal and without cure.
Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease and Research Prevention, who was sitting at the pharmacy anel of experts who track the onset of biliary disease or BSE decades ago, told lawmakers this:
"That's my best professional judgment based on my public health experience and the risk of BSE transmission to humans in the 1
He noted that many people in public health and beef industry for years did not believe that mad cow disease could infect humans. In 1996, the researchers confirmed that BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) can infect humans as a variant known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Why concern grows
More than a year ago, Canadian researchers publicly introduced initial findings that some primates – macaque monkeys – were fed CWD-infected meat in a laboratory and developed neurological disorders. The results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but the results drew enough concern in Canada for the nation's food security agency to issue advice. The American Centers for Disease Prevention and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend receiving CWD-infected deer, but without anything decisive, wildlife agencies throughout America say the decision is a personal choice, and some hunters eat the meat.
Adding to the concern is this: the prions are almost indestructible, capable of withstanding temperatures well above 1000 degrees – and unlike viruses, CWD samples remain wild for years, sitting in the dirt, sucked up by plant roots and even just resting on lifeless objects.
Peter Larsen, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine, told lawmakers about a research project where a CWD exposed stone was placed in a cage with hamsters – and they were infected.  "If I were to model pollution, the closest thing I can think of is that it looks like modeling radioactive material," Larsen said.
More questions t he answer
One of the problems Larsen and other experts said on Thursday is that there is not much known about CWD.
Among the questions:
• How much of a "dose" will infect?
Where is the deer actually contracted with it – saliva, stools, food, dirt?
• What happens to food processing equipment exposed to a CWD-infected deer?
"We just haven't tested for it," said Jeremy Schefers, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory – the only place in Minnesota to make CWD tests. These tests can only be performed on brains, specific nodules and a few other parts of deer, and it takes days, says Schefers.
Portable testing proposed
Schefers and Larsen are part of a team that proposes to develop a new test device that can be used on live or dead animals and yields results in minutes or hours, not days.
The team, which also includes nanotechnology experts, asks lawmakers for $ 1.8 million to embark on the project.
Wildlife officials believe only 1 percent of the deer in Fillmore County is infected. But in Wisconsin, where the disease has become endemic in many areas, rates of infection are believed to have reached 35 percent in some deer populations.