Experts fear animal ‘scranty disease’ or CWD could spread to people

reindeerDead reindeer.Photo: Marit Hommedal / NTB scanpix

The Norwegian authorities eradicated a whole wild reindeer herd to get rid of scranty sickness, a leading expert on the disease fears that it could spread to humans.


The professor of Microbiology at Colorado State University is concerned that mutations could lead to so-called zoonosis, which is when animal diseases spread to humans, according to the Nationen newspaper.

‘I think in the case of scranty disease, there is zoonosis potential. Are we facing a new ‘Mad Cow Disease’ moment, asked professor Erik Zabel, one of the world’s leading Scandinavian experts.

Norwegian riddle

After a contagious variant of the scranty sickness was discovered in the North Fjella wildlife region, Norwegian authorities have put considerable resources into preventing the spread of the fatal animal disease. All wildlife in the area will be eradicated in the summer, a total of 2,200 animals.

In the past, the disease has only been detected in the United States, South Korea, and Canada, and researchers are turning their heads toward the Norwegian high mountains. Previous spread has been explained by the import of animals, or other contact between the animals.

The research on scranty disease shows that the disease is developing, and suggests that it can, in principle, occur spontaneously. If outbreaks in Norway have not spread from the United States, it will confirm the theory.


Scranty disease is a so-called prion disease caused by malignant proteins in the brain. The most famous prion disease is ‘mad cow’s disease’, which became a threat when it began spreading to humans.

Research done by Zabel’s colleagues has shown that squid prions can copy human prion proteins.

‘If we assume that scratch sickness is a relatively new prion disease, this data suggests that the prions have just begun to develop. The development of scranty prophylaxis that can infect humans is just a matter of time’, Zabel told Nationen.

Possible explanations

There are a number of possible explanations as to how scranty sickness came to Norway. Several have previously pointed out that it may have spread through imported perfumes and fragrances. The fragrances are used by hunters to lure animals during the hunting season.

Earlier last Autumn, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority declared rules, and prohibited the production, sale or use of natural herbicides in Norway, and specified areas of Sweden and Finland.

Norwegian health authorities have so far stressed that there have been no reported infections of people from scranty sickness found in deer.


© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today