News Release

CIDRAP launches international effort to prepare for possible chronic wasting disease spillover

Image of a female white-tailed deer
Credit: Michael-Tatman/iStock

The fatal infection currently affects only cervids such as deer, but experts worry it could spread to humans and non-cervid farm animals

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota is pioneering a multi-country project to prepare for a possible chronic wasting disease (CWD) spillover from deer or other cervids—members of the deer family—to humans or non-cervid farm animals.

The work is funded by the Minnesota Legislature, administered by the state Department of Natural Resources and led by CIDRAP and CWD Project Director Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, and co-directors Jamie Umber, DVM, MPH, and Cory Anderson, PhD, MPH.

"We have been very fortunate to have very active leadership and support in the state for CWD efforts, including the work of Representative Rick Hansen," said Osterholm. Minnesota Representative Hansen (D-South St. Paul) is a member of the CIDRAP project's wildlife health and conservation working group.

The CIDRAP CWD Team has enlisted 67 experts from seven countries to serve on five working groups. Their discussions will inform a living, ongoing response plan on topics such as risk communication, education and outreach for the Minnesota Legislature.

The groups are addressing human medicine and public health surveillance, epidemiology, lab capacity, planning, and response; cervid and production animal surveillance, lab capacity, planning, and response; prion disease diagnostics; carcass and contaminated item disposal; and wildlife health and conservation.

Hansen said that science is critical in dealing with a new and challenging disease. "I think that's where engaging scientists, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers with the CIDRAP effort is really important, because we can learn from each other," said Hansen.

He added that state, national and international cooperation is essential in tackling CWD. "I think the beauty of the CIDRAP proposal is you've got groups working on a variety of things, whether it's human health, management, research, what's happening with other species, so you've got wildlife health, public health and management," said Hansen. "We have a lot more to learn."

The groups' 10 co-chairs represent Case Western Reserve University, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Creighton University, the University of Calgary, the National Institutes of Health, Colorado State University, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the University of Alberta, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Members represent 18 universities, four U.S. federal agencies, seven state agencies, and four tribal communities. In addition to the United States and Canada, members hail from France, Germany, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

About CWD: CWD is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of cervids caused by infectious misfolded proteins called prions. While it has not yet been detected in people, the CDC warns against eating the meat of infected animals. CWD was first detected in 1967 in mule deer at a Colorado research facility. It has been confirmed in 32 states, four Canadian provinces, South Korea, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

About CIDRAP: Part of the University of Minnesota's Research and Innovation Office, CIDRAP is a global leader in addressing public health preparedness and emerging infectious disease response. Founded in 2001, CIDRAP works to prevent illness and death from targeted infectious disease threats through research and the translation of scientific information into practical applications, policies and solutions. 

Media Contacts

Brad Robideau

University Public Relations