Researchers from the University of Calgary and from Germany will be looking at whether Chronic Wasting Disease in deer can spread to human populations.
CWD is spreading through deer and elk herds in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The $5 million study is the largest prion project ever funded by the Alberta Prion Research Institute.
The Institute says it’s important to know the ramifications of the disease on human health to set public policy and inform hunters and ranchers.
The tests will involve injecting non-human primates with high doses of Chronic Wasting Disease to see if they develop the disease.
The Prion Institute supports research into the proteins that cause CWD as well as Creutzfeld-Jacob disease in humans and BSE in cattle.
Increased funding of two surveillance programmes. New government funding of $1.086 million has been allocated over the next two years to existing surveillance programmes for scrapie in goats and sheep, and chronic wasting disease of deer.
Derek Belton, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) Director of Animal Biosecurity says that although New Zealand is recognised as free from scrapie and chronic wasting disease (CWD), increased surveillance is necessary to meet new requirements under the World Organisation for Animal Health’s international standard for proof of country freedom from this disease.
“We need to provide robust evidence to overseas authorities and consumers that, if these diseases were present in New Zealand our surveillance programmes would detect them.
“Failure to provide adequate evidence in support of claims of country freedom from these diseases could jeopardise New Zealand’s currently accepted animal health status. This would affect market access for our sheep, goat and deer sector exports and our bio-pharmaceutical industry, which has an excellent international reputation that depends on New Zealand being scrapie free,” he said.
Under the expanded program, testing for scrapie and CWD will increase to 3,300 sheep samples, 300 goat samples and 300 deer samples per year.
The government has agreed to fund surveillance for these diseases while proposals for industry funding are developed. These proposals will be presented in a discussion paper to be released for public comment by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry by May next year.
Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), scrapie and CWD are brain wasting diseases classified as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). With the emergence of BSE in Europe, New Zealand adopted a targeted surveillance programme for TSEs, which has seen the number of cattle samples tested for BSE increase to approximately 2000 per year.
Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. It was first described in Great Britain and other countries of Western Europe more than 250 years ago and has been reported throughout the world.
Only New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are generally recognised as free from this disease.
CWD is a similar condition of deer and elk. Until recently, this disease appeared to be restricted to two states in the USA, but has since been detected in nine states, two Canadian provinces and in South Korea, in an elk imported from Canada. Unlike BSE, there is no evidence that scrapie or CWD pose risks to human health.
New Zealand has never had a case of CWD, but has been exposed to risk of this disease through the importation of elk from Canadian herds subsequently found to be infected.
Scrapie and CWD are notifiable and passive surveillance has been maintained since 1952.