Deadly prion disease has surfaced in Europe

First case of chronic wasting disease (CWD) detected in Norwegian reindeer

The first case of prion disease CWD in a Norwegian reindeer raises concern © Alexandre Buisse / CC-by-sa 3.0
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Researchers are alarmed: For the first time, the deadly prion disease CWD has also occurred in Europe. A wild reindeer in Norway died in March on the previously known only from North America disease. So far, it has not been possible to control the disease, which is highly infectious for deer and elk. Veterinarians are therefore afraid that the prion disease could now spread among Europe's reindeer and reindeer.

At least since the BSE epidemic in cattle or cases of Creutzfeld-Jacob disease in humans, it is known that misfolded proteins, prions, can cause deadly diseases. In North America, a prion disease has been rampant among wild deer for years. This so-called Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has infested at least 20 percent of the deer and is becoming more widespread by the feces of scavenging crows.

First CWD case with a reindeer

Now a find in Norway causes concern. For the first time, researchers have now discovered this deadly prion disease in a wild animal in Europe. The prions were detected in the corpse of a wild reindeer in Norway. "The sick reindeer cow was observed by helicopter in mid-March 2016, " says Turid Vikøren of the Norwegian Veterinary Institute.

When the reindeer died, it was taken to Oslo for an autopsy and the brain tissue examined for traces of prions. "In deer relatives older than 18 months, we routinely take a sample of the brain tissue for a CWD test, " explains Vikøren. To the surprise and concern of the researchers, the sample was positive for CWD prions.

The brain of the CWD-affected reindeer in the laboratory © Sylvie Benestad / Norwegian Veterinary Institute

Concern for Europe's reindeer

"This is worrisome it is a nasty illness, " said Vik ren colleague Sylvie Benestad. It is also the first case worldwide of a CWD in a reindeer. So far, they have not known for certain whether this species is susceptible to the disease. Proof of the prion in the reindeer cow now proves that the European herds of these deer relatives could also be in acute danger. display

From the experience in the USA is known that this prion disease is extremely contagious and hardly to fight. Once an animal is infected, slow death is inevitable. In North America, attempts have been made for years to stop the spread of the CWD epidemic by killing entire herds, but so far in vain.

Source of infection unknown

It is not yet known if the sick reindeer cow in Nordwegen is an isolated case or just the tip of an iceberg. The researchers, however, are worried that the CWD could now spread among the reindeer. Also, how the reindeer cow was infected with the prions, is so mysterious.

Theoretically, this could have been done by imported deer from the US or Canada, but researchers think that this is unlikely because the affected reindeer cow was a wild animal. Another possibility would be a transfer from a sheep suffering from the closely related Traber's disease. However, such a direct breed of prions from sheep to reindeer would be a novelty.

The scientists at the Norwegian Veterinary Institute now want to monitor more closely the wild reindeer populations in their country and take random samples to find out how far the CWD could have spread and where the prions came from possibly originate.

(Norwegian Veterinary Institute, 19.04.2016 - NPO)