Study: CWD found in flesh, not just the brain

WASHINGTON — The leg muscles of deer infected with chronic wasting disease contain the infectious proteins that cause the fatal brain disease, new research shows.

Chronic wasting disease is in the same family of brain-destroying illnesses as mad cow disease.

There is no evidence that people have caught chronic wasting disease from infected deer or elk. But University of Kentucky researchers, writing in Friday's edition of the journal Science, concluded that hunters may be exposed to these infectious proteins, called prions, by handling an ill deer's flesh.

Researchers have found prions in the muscle of other species with variations of these "transmissible spongiform encephalopathies," or TSEs. But the most highly infectious tissue, in deer or any other species with a TSE, is the brain and spinal cord; muscle contains far less.

The new research found the same with the deer muscle: Mice bred to be vulnerable to chronic wasting disease became infected faster when their brains were injected with brain extracts from dying deer than when they were injected with contaminated muscle.

Already, hunters in areas where chronic wasting disease has been found are urged to have the heads of their kills tested for the ailment.