A new prion pathology not seen so far in Europe has led the Norwegian government to take extreme measures, with Santa’s favorite company.
It was the 1990s when all the health alarms burst with the announcement of mad cow disease, a serious pathology that affected cattle and was beginning to infect people who ate their meat.
Also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, this condition was caused by a type of protein known as prion, whose erroneous folding leads them to form aberrant aggregates that convert them into infectious agents.
Since then this disease has ended the lives of 200 people worldwide, so prions have become a reason for fear that has recently reborn, with the news of several cases of reindeer and Norwegian elk infections.
In this case, the disease is chronic (CWD), a common prion pathology in the United States – where it affects up to 40% of the herds in some areas – Crossed the Atlantic, infecting a few specimens of the Nordic country.
At the moment there are no known cases of infected persons eating their meat, but it is still necessary to establish a series of security measures, in order to prevent their diffusion reaches the levels of North America.
CWD, the terror of the deer
One of the main problems in controlling the spread of chronic wasting disease is that it takes two to three years to begin to show symptoms, so that up to its detection has been able to spread to many other individuals.
After this time, the animals begin to show weight loss, lethargy and drooling and end up dying a few months later.
The first documented infected animal in Norway was detected in 2016, when a team of biologists was working in the mountains of Nordfjella. It was a young reindeer whose autopsy, carried out at the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, concluded that it was indeed the disease that was ending the lives of hundreds of animals in the United States.
This news drew the attention of a group of local hunters, who soon found two cases of sick reindeer in the city of Selbu, more than 800 kilometers away, and since then new cases have not stopped appearing.
In fact, further analysis found two other infected animals, again in Nordfjella, but the prions were different from those in Selbu, so no link between the two infections is believed to exist.
The Norwegian authorities have already begun to take measures to curb the transmission of the disease and for that it would be appropriate to know how the prions from the United States have reached there.
There are many theories about this, such as deer urine that is bottled and exported to be used as a hunter’s lure, or a traveler’s hiking boots, which could carry traces of feces or urine from an infected animal.
However, the most accepted hypothesis for the moment is the spontaneous generation of prions, which could be produced in isolation by the poor folding of the proteins in a particular animal, and then spread through the environment.
It is a disease easily contagious through fluids such as faeces, urine or saliva, so it becomes very difficult to eliminate it from a place once established in it.
For this reason, local hunters have been given permission to hunt as of August the 2000 animals that make up the herd of infected animals, which account for 6% of the national wild population.
Once sacrificed, their meat can be consumed, but only if the prion analyzes give negative; Since, although no cases of human infection are known, their safety is not known with certainty.
On the other hand, the place inhabited by these animals will remain in quarantine for five years, surrounded by paved limits; Which are usually not traversed by these animals.
However, if anyone tries to get out or enter the area, the forest rangers will have to track them down and kill them to avoid further infection.
It seems that it is still not late and that this terrible disease can still be stopped, which could put an end to the population of these animals so characteristic of the European Nordic countries.