50 Years Since Discovery, Scientists Want to Fight CWD... with Fire

Professor Mark D. Zabel thinks he can fight Chronic Wasting Disease with fire.

Chronic Wasting Disease, also known as CWD, has been found in elk, moose and deer populations across the country. The Colorado State University immunologist believes reducing the areas affected by CWD is important in reducing its reach.

The disorder, which has been known for 50 years, causes its victims to suffer a horrible death. Although its exact evolution isn't known, there are theories regarding its origin. The disease may have come from domestic sheep that had a condition called Scrapie. Once the sheep contacted deer, the condition evolved and began to spread throughout the population. It was during this time in the 1960s that Chronic Wasting Disease was identified.

It was first seen in a captive deer in Colorado. Since then, it has been found in twenty-four states and two provinces.

Chronic wasting disease is caused by a deformed protein called a prion. Prions cause problems in the nervous system of the individual. When infected, they deform the individual's normal protein. Symptoms include weight loss, confusion, excessive saliva, and stumbling. Eventually, it leads to death.

New research is showing that infected animals release prions into the environment. It is therefore likely that animals can become infected without direct contact. Essentially, burning the vegetation where the prions exist could reduce the likelihood of its exposure.

The condition is still being found in new locations.  To the surprise of the science community, the disease has recently been found in Europe. This has led to new theories regarding its transmission and origin.

Although prions have not been found in humans, Professor Zabel fears that if nothing is done, it could eventually happen.