Prion Disease Never Isolated
Mad cow disease has again raised its ugly head in the United States. Thanks to misinformation and mismanagement by government, the problem will persist.
Government and industry representatives announced yesterday that an 11-year-old beef cow in Alabama tested positive for prion disease. Also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the disease is always fatal and a major concern for producers and consumers alike.
It was detected after the cow showed clinical signs of sickness at an Alabama livestock market. This animal never entered slaughter channels and at no time presented a risk to the food supply, or to human health in the United States, the U.S.D.A. said. Unfortunately, this producer did attempt to sell a very sick animal to an unsuspecting buyer. He obviously has a farm or ranch that is contaminated. The sick animal added to the contamination on the farm with its urine, feces and saliva. It also infected the livestock auction site. Sun and oxygen do not deplete prions. In fact, they can mutate and multiply in some soil and migrate away via the wind and water runoff.
The Problem With Prions
Each prion victim is a symptom of a much bigger threat to food safety, water quality and public health. Prion disease has been detected in livestock around the world. The U.S. has only confirmed five cases through testing since 2003, but the vast majority of beef and dairy cattle are not tested thanks to intense lobbying from cattle producers and food companies.
Unfortunately, livestock producers, farmers and other land owners are being duped into a false sense of security and many are unwittingly participating in high-risk production practices that expose livestock, wildlife and people to deadly prions. To purge the threat of prion disease from the food supply, it’s time to manage prion pathways like we handle all biohazards. It’s time for government agencies to stop spreading misinformation and stop promoting risky production practices, including the dumping of infectious waste on farms, ranches, golf courses, parks and playgrounds. Cities are now dumping their highly infectious sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, on open land across the U.S.—especially in rural areas. It’s bioterrorism. It’s fueling the spike in Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and mad cow disease. It’s also fueling cancer, endocrine disruption and more.
A Spectrum Disease
Neurodegenerative disease, including prion disease, is the fastest-growing cause of death in the world. Misinformation and mismanagement are fueling the epidemic among people and wildlife. Unfortunately, we have no idea how pervasive the disease is among livestock because 99.9 percent of the animals are not tested, even though many are being exposed to prion contamination on a daily basis. Infected animals are contagious long before they start to stumble, drool and fall down. Therefore, our food and water supplies are at risk.
The technical term for prion disease is transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.” In addition to mad cow disease, TSE includes scrapie in sheep and chronic wasting disease in deer, elk, moose and reindeer. TSE has been found in many mammals, including dolphins, cats, mink and elephants. It’s likely killing whales and other sea mammals, since most mammals appear to be vulnerable to deadly prions.
In humans, TSEs are known primarily as Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and kuru.
There is little, if any, difference because prion disease is a spectrum disease that’s only distinguished by the severity of symptoms. Diagnoses are usually a shot in the dark based only on visible symptoms.
Dr. Stanley Prusiner, an American neuroscientist from the University of California at San Francisco, earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for discovering and characterizing deadly prions and prion disease. He claims that all TSEs are caused by prions–a deadly and unstoppable form of protein that migrates, mutates, multiplies and kills with unparalleled efficiency.
President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the importance of his research. According to Prusiner, TSEs all are on the same disease spectrum, which is more accurately described as prion (PREE-on) disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is at the extreme end of the spectrum. Prusiner’s science is being ignored and we are facing a public health disaster because of the negligence.
Despite Dr. Prusiner’s crowning achievement, he has remained too silent on policies and practices that are contributing to the spread of prions in our daily lives. Government and industry spokesmen have stepped forward to cast smoke and mirrors over productive conversations about reforms to protect public health. Despite attempts to gag and censor Prusiner and other prion scientists, they have painted the landscape of the problem. It’s up to critical thinkers to connect the dots and demand change.
For example, Jimmy Holliman, a spokesperson for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Denver went on record to say that BSE is not contagious. That’s the equivalent of saying that an infectious disease is not infectious. The comment demonstrates incompetence, negligence or contempt.
“USDA’s ongoing BSE surveillance program has tested more than one million cattle since the program began,” Holliman said. “The incidence of BSE in the United States is extremely low, and will remain so.”
That’s quite an admission. It only takes one infected animal to create a perpetual prion pathway that will infect live animals, carcasses at the slaughterhouse, meat markets and kitchens.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I worked for the National Cattlemen’s Association, the predecessor of Holliman’s organization, between 1988 and 1992. My father worked in the meat industry all of his life. I grew up in rural Colorado with many beef and dairy producers. I’m not an enemy of the beef industry. I’m trying to lead them out of this mess before government lies explode in their face (keep reading).
Prion disease is a complex topic. Even the world’s top scientists don’t fully understand the dynamics, yet. All that we need to know is that prions + pathways = victims:
- Prions: Impossible to neutralize completely in laboratory or surgical setting. Even more impossible to halt in the open-air experiments that are taking place all around us.
- Pathways: The key to prion management is pathway management. The bodily fluids, feces and cell tissue of prion victims are highly infectious. Prion victims (especially people) contaminate the world around them. Although prions can migrate via many pathways, some of the largest and most obvious threats are being ignored. We examine the major pathways below.
- Victims: If we know that we have prions and pathways, there will be victims—an endless supply of victims will spawn new mutations and new pathways.
First of all, prion disease is prion disease. There are now thousands of mutations of prions. No two cases of prion disease are identical because some prions are more aggressive and pervasive than others. It also depends on which region of the brain is impacted first.
Read The Full Mad Cow Disease Update