By Dan Shapley
Disease, Which Attacks The Brain, More Aggressive Than Previously Thought
New research shows that the prion -- a mysterious infectious agent that is neither bacterium nor virus -- is 700 times more infectious when combined with common minerals found in dirt. Not only is the prion an abnormal protein that can devastate infected animals and humans -- it has has been compared to an alien due to its virtual indestructibility, its unusual ability to replicate itself and its propensity for eating away at the brain -- but it may live on and remain virulent in the soil itself. The finding is important to hunters across the country, as chronic wasting disease continues to spread in wild deer herds. It also has important implications for cattle and sheep farmers, as mad cow disease in cows and scrapie in sheep are also caused by prions. As for humans, the implications for illness-- known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease -- is unknown. While serious disease among humans has been tied to the eating of meat from diseased cows, no such links have been made between venison and human health, and hunters are well informed about steps needed to reduce the risk of transmission.