GREAT FALLS — Montanans have been keeping a watchful eye on Chronic Wasting Disease since it was first discovered in the state in 2017, and more recently in Cascade County at the end of 2022.
CWD is a contagious neurological disease that infects deer, elk, and moose. It is always fatal, and there is no known cure, according to FWP. It was first detected in Montana’s wild herds in 2017. The disease is known to exist in other parts of north-central Montana, especially north of Highway 2, as well as in other areas of the state.
Research is being done at the McLaughlin Research Institute in Great Falls to determine whether or not humans can contract the disease. The disease is not known to infect humans, but has a 100% fatality rate in infected animals.
Now that it has been discovered near Great Falls and considering how many families consume wild game meat, they feel that it is important and worthy research.
Assistant Professor and MRI veterinarian Andrea Grindeland is heading the research and has more than a decade of experience as a veterinarian. As a Great Falls native, she knows firsthand how much meat can be consumed and is looking for more definitive answers regarding the disease and its potential impacts.
"Currently, there are no live animal testing methods for CWD that are practical and can be used in the field," Grindeland said. "That's one of our goals is to develop a practical test FWP and hunters can use out in the field, and to also find out if humans can contract CWD. Many Montanans feed their family with wild game, and this is a concerning issue as the disease is very contagious among deer and elk. We need to have the answers to know if humans could potentially get sick from this."
Grindeland submitted a proposal last year to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to receive samples for more testing. The proposal sent to FWP says the research is focusing on a genetic analysis of Montana's wild Cervidae family prion protein gene, or PRNP, variants in relation to disease status as well as location at the time of harvest.
Institute officials said as far as they know, they are the only ones in the state conducting this type of research.
FWP was unavailable for comment but Grindeland said they are both working to learn more about CWD and develop further research on the disease.
"We're developing a collaboration with Fish, Wildlife and Parks to acquire samples to study with their CWD surveillance program. We're going to be developing live testing methods and investigate further into if humans could potentially get chronic wasting disease if they ate contaminated meat."
The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends that people not eat meat from infected animals and have their harvested animals tested before eating them if they were taken from an area where CWD is known to exist. Click here for more information about CWD.
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