There is a variant of mad cow disease (Properly named Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)) that
effects affects deer and elk. Known as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). It is just as scary as the one that strikes cattle or the human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease. Up until now scientists have not understood the way this terrible disease is spread. But with a little creativity, researchers have figured it out with a high degree of certainty.
… CWD is unusual because, unlike its very hard-to-spread relatives, it seems to spread fairly easily from animal to animal.
Scientists were not sure how, primarily because studying large wild animals is a logistical nightmare. The sheer stress of researchers handling a deer caught in the wild could kill it.
Likewise, animals deliberately exposed to infections must be kept indoors so as not to spread disease, another stress for deer used to roaming.
So Colorado State University researcher Edward Hoover turned to fawns hand-raised indoors in Georgia, which has not experienced chronic wasting disease.
"This allows you to do this safely so the deer aren't freaking out," explained Hoover, who reported the first evidence of saliva's long-suspected role in Friday's edition of the journal Science. "These deer are calm and approachable."
Hoover took saliva from wild Colorado deer found dying of CWD, and squirted it into the mouths of three of the healthy tame deer — about 3 tablespoons worth.
Additional tame deer were exposed to blood, urine and feces from CWD-infected deer.
He housed the newly exposed deer in a specialized lab for up to 18 months, periodically checking tonsil tissue for signs of infection and eventually autopsying their brains.
All of the saliva-exposed deer got sick.
So did deer given a single transfusion of blood from a CWD-infected deer — not a surprise, as blood is known to transmit this disease's cousins. But it does reinforce existing warnings to hunters in states where CWD has been found to take precautions in handling their kills.
So with deer season close upon us and the surge of activity in the animal uprising, we here at Blue Crab Boulevard thought we'd pass along a warning. Hunters, if you see a deer or elk rearing back to hawk a loogie at you, run like hell.