Friday, October 14, 2005

Urine May Carry Prions

Reuters is reporting that Swiss researchers think that infectious prions may be passed between cattle in urine.
They found that, under certain conditions in mice, the deformed brain proteins known as prions that transmit the disease could be found in urine.

"We tested whether chronic inflammatory kidney disorders would trigger excretion of prion infectivity into urine," Adriano Aguzzi of the University Hospital of Zurich and colleagues wrote in their report, published in the journal Science.

Scrapie-infected mice with kidney inflammation excreted prions in their urine, and these prions infected other mice with scrapie when injected, Aguzzi and colleagues found.

It is a long way from this laboratory experiment to a real-world setting in which grazing or browsing animals pick up and become infected with urine from others, but the researchers say it shows such transmission is theoretically possible.
This is an interesting development and one that makes a lot of sense. If it turns out to be true we'll have to figure out new ways to dispose of tons of cattle urine-soaked sawdust and soil every year. It might also mean that free range cattle are more prone to BSE infection than pen raised cattle.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The only thing baffling is that the ban wasn't already in place

The FDA wants to ban cow brains and spinal cords from feed for all animals, including chickens, pigs and pets, reducing the risk of infection by 90%. Libby Quaid of the AP wrote about the proposal on Oct. 4 There are many critics though that say the ban doesn't go far enough. 19 months ago the FDA had promised that it would also ban three other items to the list of materials banned from cattle feed: blood, restaurant plate waste and poultry litter. With the new proposal, supposedly there would not be a need to ban chicken litter from cattle feed because chickens would not be eating the most dangeous cattle parts. But the proposal does not include other "specified risk materials," such as eyes or part of the small intestine. Also, the new plan does not ban cattle blood, often fed to calves as a milk replacer. [In your next life, pray you don't come back as a cow. Not yet, not now.] From the article:
Linda Detwiler, a former Agriculture Department veterinarian who led the department's work on mad cow disease for several years, said removing 90 percent of the risk isn't good enough. "I'm disappointed that our government wouldn't want to remove 100 percent, given that there's emerging research that there may be more tissues that have infectivity," she said. Detwiler said the plan would still allow chicken, pig and pet feed to contain potentially infectious tissues from the highest-risk cattle, "downers" that can't walk and dead cows. "There is no question that we should not be feeding the remains of any mammals to food animals, and by not closing this dangerous loophole, we are exposing the American public to unnecessary risk," said Michael Hansen, a biologist for Consumers Union.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Wild Moose Tests Positive for Chronic Wasting Disease

The Rocky Mountain News on Sept. 30 reported that a moose killed in north-central Colorado has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the first known case of a moose contracting it in the wild. Moose's solitary social habits likely provides some protection from the disease since unlike deer and elk, they don't form herds or social groups, and are less likely to become infected through saliva or contact between live animals.

T-bone may soon be back on Europe's menus after four-year mad cow ban

The National Post reported a Reuters story on Oct. 1 that the 2001 ban in many European countries on sales of beef containing the backbone of animals aged over 12 months may be lifted when veterinary experts from the EU member states meet next week to debate whether to raise that limit to 24 months.

NJ Creutzfeldt-Jakob cluster turns suburban mom into crusader

The Associated Press on Oct. 2 reported the story of Janet Skarbek, a tax manager who is fighting to raise awareness and uncover more information about vCJD in the United States after the death of an acquaintance at the Garden State Park racetrack in New Jersey. The racetrack has been the commonality of a purported sporadic CJD cluster, although some say it's not a cluster at all and some say it's even worse than it seems. After reading about the death, Skarbek had wondered how two of just 100 administrative employees at the track be died from a neurological disease health officials say kills just one in a million people each year, usually after age 60. She began searching obituaries and identified 18 people she believes died of CJD from 1993 to 2004 and had eaten regularly at the same restaurant at the now-closed racetrack. She also researched possible clusters elsewhere.
Skarbek believes some U.S. deaths should have been classified as variant CJD and not sporadic. Both diseases can incubate for decades before symptoms such as dementia and loss of muscle control appear. vCJD usually strikes people in their 20s and takes about 14 months to kill; sporadic CJD kills in just six months, almost always people over age 50. In June, she visited Terry Schwan of Sterling Heights, Mich., whose son Jeff, an athlete and bodybuilder, died at 26 four years ago of what was classified as sporadic CJD. Schwan's son lost his memory, then his vision and died within five months, a normal span for sporadic CJD. But Schwan said sophisticated brain tissue testing showed he had the same type of CJD as British mad cow victims, leaving her with doubts. Dr. Ermias Belay, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, declined to discuss the case for privacy reasons. But he said fewer than 10 suspected U.S. clusters have been reported and none have panned out. In each case, testing showed some cases weren't CJD or some patients had lived elsewhere for years, so the number of verified cases was within statistical norms. Belay added that there have been no U.S. mad cow victims except for a woman born and raised in the United Kingdom who died in Florida last year. Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, New Jersey's state epidemiologist, said his investigation last year of the suspected racetrack cluster found three people died of causes other than CJD. Bresnitz ruled the deaths Skarbek linked to the track did not constitute a cluster, or unexpectedly high number of cases, because the track drew millions of visitors from a wide area.
Skarbek wants a total ban on animals in the human food chain eating blood or body parts from other animals. [Why is this still being argued?!?] Officials say that the beef supply is safe, but some researchers believe that she may be right about some cases sporadic CJD being misclassified.