Chronic wasting disease outbreak and research calls for new educational resources

September 13, 2019

Center for Animal Health and Food Safety launches online tool for tracking and understanding recent chronic wasting disease research

Amidst the recent spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Minnesota, University of Minnesota researchers are collaborating to slow the disease down. As part of this effort, the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine’s (CVM) Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) has built an online resource, CWD Watch, which is a hub for educational materials related to CWD. The information on the site will evolve, translating leading-edge research for both a regional and global audience in real time. CAHFS is working closely with the Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach (MNPRO), established by Peter Larsen, PhD, assistant professor in the CVM’s Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, and Davis Seelig, DVM, PhD, DACVP, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, to keep the website up-to-date and accurate.

CWD Watch has a specific focus on what the CVM is doing to combat this disease, but the website’s materials are from a variety of sources (both internal and external to the U). The center hopes the site will help Minnesota stakeholders stay informed on this animal disease, while also reaching a global audience to raise awareness. Amidst these educational tools is original content created by CAHFS in collaboration with MNPRO, including a video series focused on making CWD science and research accessible to a lay audience. 

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has spread across the central United States over the past 50 years and is currently found in 26 states. It’s also found in Canada, several Scandinavian countries, and parts of Asia. The transmissible neurological disease produces small lesions in an animal’s brain and often results in abnormal behavior, weight loss, loss of bodily functions, and death. CWD affects white-tailed deer, mule deer, red deer, sika deer, caribou, reindeer, elk, and moose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against eating meat from CWD-infected animals, but research has not yet shown that CWD can be transmitted to humans.

CAHFS is uniquely positioned to help communicate the intricacies of CWD to a wide audience in an accessible way. The center executed a similar online hub for African Swine Fever last fall, in response to that recent outbreak. CAHFS also spends considerable resources collaborating with foreign countries to identify ways to build capacity around combatting outbreaks that threaten animal health and food safety. 

“It is in the tradition of the Center of Animal Health and Food Safety to do outreach on infectious animal disease and food safety issues,” says Andres Perez, DVM, PhD, the center’s director. “CWD in particular has caused far-reaching losses to the animal population of our state and raised concerns in the public sector. This new tool will help communicate the critically important research conducted by faculty and scientists at the CVM."

"CWD is a formidable global health threat that requires the considerable resources of the University of Minnesota and our worldwide networks of expertise," says Michael Oakes, PhD, associate vice president for research and coordinator of the University's CWD task force. "Sharing information, making discoveries and convening discussions are important steps toward combating this worrisome infection."

The site can be reached at z.umn.edu/CWDwatch.

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CONTACT

Peter Larsen, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, plarsen@umn.edu, 612-626-1694 

Andres Perez, DVM, PhD, director of CAHFS and Endowed Chair of Global Animal Health and Food Safety, aperez@umn.edu, 612-625-8709