It seemed too good to be true. A video circulating on social media recently showed an unnamed man giving a press conference, claiming that the “real” cause of chronic wasting disease has been discovered, and that a cure is less than two years away.
The man went on to state boldly that similar illnesses, such as scrapie and mad cow disease, and the human variant known as Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, will also be cured in the foreseeable future.
The video quickly went viral, sending shock waves throughout hunting communities across the country.
And why not?
Hunters have been told for years that CWD cannot be cured. Our once care-free deer hunting lifestyle is a thing of the past.
With a single video, a ray of hope shined brighter than the sun on a cold winter afternoon. But in an era of gratuitous sound bites and fake news, one had to wonder if the message was real.
Despite 40 years of research and one Nobel Prize demonstrating that CWD and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are caused by infectious protein particles known as prions, this fellow stated without a doubt that they are actually caused by a previously unknown bacterium known as a spiroplasma.
His excitement is the result of work done by one researcher in Louisiana, who has for many years claimed that prions are a byproduct of a bacterial infection, not the cause of the disease itself.
I’m guessing that every hunter in the country is praying that the report is true. Heck, I want it to be true.
But something about the message in the video bothered me. I started my career working as a microbiologist, spending many years developing molecular tests to diagnose bacterial and viral diseases that are rare or hard to detect.
I’ve published many scientific research papers on various topics and human diseases. Researchers are usually very careful in making claims about their work, and they choose their words carefully in published research studies.
I would never consider making such bold claims about my findings unless they could be broadly reproduced and accepted by other researchers.
Indeed, according to the National Deer Alliance, at least two laboratories in the country attempted and failed to reproduce these results. One lab used molecular techniques to search for the Spiroplasma bacterium in infected samples. Another lab attempted to cause CWD in animals by inoculating them with Spiroplasma bacterium.
Both labs failed in their attempts — and it appears that no other lab has likewise been able to demonstrate that spiroplasma can cause CWD.
I would be remiss if I said that the spiroplasma theory just isn’t true. But research relies on reproducible evidence, and it appears that has not occurred.
As the press conference continued, something else happened. Responses on social media became overwhelmingly negative about the efforts of professional wildlife agencies to manage and contain current outbreaks of CWD.
Everyone knows that conspiracy theories abound on social media. Often, we tend to ignore them.
But when it comes to CWD, it seems that many people believe that the Minnesota DNR and other wildlife agencies in the country are intentionally trying to ruin deer hunting. Perhaps this is fostered in part by folks who cannot accept a modest decline in the deer population, or by others who may have a financial stake in either deer or deer hunting.
Either way, we all know that social media is notorious for being inaccurate and biased. Yet, we still use it to form opinions about everything from donuts to deer.
For the folks who would rather understand a problem before coming to a conclusion, let’s keep an open mind and refuse to make a judgment until we’ve learned all of the facts, not just a select few.