There is growing concern in the scientific and public health community that chronic wasting disease, which is killing deer in Minnesota, Wisconsin and elsewhere, could jump to people someday.
That unsettling news surfaced at a hearing Thursday at the Minnesota Capitol, where a number of experts from the University of Minnesota pressed upon lawmakers that the disease should be treated as a public health issue — a major expansion of its current scope as mostly a wildlife and hunting concern.
The issue is especially pressing for Minnesota, where wildlife officials are tracking the state’s largest outbreak of CWD yet in deer in the southeast portion of the state, including Winona County.
No person is known to have gotten sick from eating or handling a CWD-infected deer.
But scientists have always been wary of it because the disease is spread via extremely hardy protein molecules, known as prions, making it similar to mad cow disease, which did jump from cows to people. Mad cow disease is also fatal and without a cure.
Michael Osterholm, director for the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy who sat on a panel of experts tracking the emergence of mad cow disease, or BSE, decades ago, told lawmakers this:
“It is my best professional judgment based on my public health experience and the risk of BSE transmission to humans in the 1980s and 1990s and my extensive review and evaluation of laboratory research studies ... that it is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead. It is possible that number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events.”
Osterholm said he knows that skeptics will accuse him of stoking fear — and he did say this: “If Stephen King could write an infectious disease novel, he would write about prions like this.” But, he noted that for years, many in the public health and beef industry did not believe mad cow disease could infect people. In 1996, researchers confirmed that BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) can infect people as variant known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).
More than a year ago, Canadian researchers publicly presented initial findings that some primates — macaque monkeys — in a laboratory were fed CWD-infected meat and developed neurological disorders. The results have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, but the findings sparked enough concern in Canada for the nation’s food safety agency to issue an advisory. However, a different group of researchers published a study that failed to find such a transmission.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend against eating CWD-infected deer, but without anything conclusive, wildlife agencies throughout America say the decision is a personal choice, and some hunters do eat the meat.
Adding to the concern is this: The prions are nearly indestructible, capable of withstanding temperatures well above 1,000 degrees — and unlike viruses, CWD prions remain viable in the wild for years, sitting in the dirt, getting sucked up by plant roots and even just resting on inanimate objects.
Peter Larsen, an assistant professor at Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, told lawmakers of a research project where a CWD-exposed rock was placed in a cage with hamsters — and they became infected.
“If I were to model contamination, the closest thing I can think of is it would be similar to modeling radioactive material,” Larsen said.
One of the problems, Larsen and other experts said Thursday, is that much is unknown about CWD.
Among the questions:
“We just don’t have tests for that,” said Jeremy Schefers, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the only place in Minnesota where any CWD tests can be done. Those tests can be done only on brains, certain nodes and a few other parts of deer, and it takes days, Schefers said.
Schefers and Larsen are part of a team at the University of Minnesota proposing to develop a new testing device that can be used on live or dead animals and give results in minutes or hours, not days.
The team, which also includes nanotechnology experts, is asking lawmakers for $1.8 million to embark on the project.
Currently, wildlife officials believe only about 1 percent of the deer in Fillmore County are infected. However, in Wisconsin, where the disease has become endemic in many areas, infection rates are believed to have reached 35 percent in some deer populations.
“It is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead. It is possible that number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events.” Michael Osterholm, director for the University of Minnesota’s
Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Sunday joined the growing group of Democrats jostling to be president and positioned herself as the most prominent Midwestern candidate in the field, as her party tries to win back voters in a region that helped put Donald Trump in the White House.
“For every American, I’m running for you,” she told an exuberant crowd gathered on a freezing, snowy afternoon at a park along the Mississippi River with the Minneapolis skyline in the background.
“And I promise you this: As your president, I will look you in the eye. I will tell you what I think. I will focus on getting things done. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. And no matter what, I’ll lead from the heart,” the three-term senator said.
Klobuchar, who has prided herself for achieving results through bipartisan cooperation, did not utter Trump’s name during her kickoff speech. But she did bemoan the conduct of “foreign policy by tweet” and said Americans must “stop the fear-mongering and stop the hate. ... We all live in the same country of shared dreams.” And she said that on first day as president, she would have the U.S. rejoin an international climate agreement that Trump has withdrawn from.
Trump responded to Klobuchar’s announcement with a tweet mocking her stance on global warming, a phenomenon he has disputed in the past. He wrote that Klobuchar talked proudly “of fighting global warming while standing in a virtual blizzard of snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Bad timing. By the end of her speech she looked like a Snowman(woman)!” Trump often overlooks evidence of record global warming and conflates cold spells and other incidents of weather with climate, which is long-term.
Klobuchar also spoke of the need to “heal the heart of our democracy and renew our commitment to the common good.”
Asserting Midwestern values, she told a crowd warmed by hot chocolate, apple cider, heat lamps and bonfires: “I don’t have a political machine. I don’t come from money. But what I do have is this: I have grit.”
Klobuchar, who easily won a third-term last year, has pointed to her broad appeal across Minnesota as she has discussed a 2020 run. She has drawn support from voters in urban, suburban and rural areas, including in dozens of counties Trump won in 2016.
She has said that success could translate to other Midwestern states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, reliably Democratic in presidential races for decades until Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.
She said the country’s “sense of community is fracturing” today, “worn down by the petty and vicious nature of our politics. We are all tired of the shutdowns and the showdowns, the gridlock and the grandstanding.”
The list of Democrats already in the race features several better-known senators with the ability to raise huge amounts of money — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
The field soon could expand to include prominent Democrats such as former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
A Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll conducted by Selzer & Company in December found that Klobuchar was largely unfamiliar to likely Iowa caucus-goers, with 54 percent saying they didn’t know enough about her to have an opinion, while 38 percent had a favorable opinion and 8 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
“She starts out perhaps with a better understanding of Midwestern voters, but I think she faces the same hurdles every one of them face, which is: Are Iowans going to find them either the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump or the candidate that most aligns with their ideologies and issues?” said John Norris, a longtime Iowa-based Democratic strategist. “I don’t know that coming from Minnesota gives her any advantage with Iowans.”
Klobuchar, 58, is known as a straight-shooting, pragmatist willing to work with Republicans, making her one of the Senate’s most productive members at passing legislation.
The rally took place not far from the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi. The span was built after the previous bridge collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people. Klobuchar had worked with then Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., to help fund the new bridge and get it completed at a faster-than-usual pace.
“We worked across the aisle to get the federal funding and we rebuilt that I-35W bridge — in just over a year. That’s community. That’s a shared story. That’s ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” she said.
Klobuchar’s focus in recent months has included prescription drug prices, a new farm bill and election security. She supports the “Green New Deal,” a Democratic plan proposed this past week to combat climate change and create thousands of jobs in renewable energy.
But her legislative record has drawn criticism from both the GOP and some fellow Democrats. Some Republicans say Klobuchar is able to get things done because she pushes smaller issues. Some progressives say she lacks the kind of fire and bold ideas needed to bring significant change and excite voters.
Klobuchar on Sunday also responded to reports in BuzzFeed and HuffPost that she has mistreated staff, saying she “can be tough” but has many staff members who’ve worked for her for many years.
“I can push people. I know that,” she told reporters after the event. “I have I’d say high expectations for myself, I have high expectations for the people who work for me, but I have high expectations for this country. And that’s what we need. We need someone who is focused on getting things done for this country.”
Klobuchar, a lawyer and the former prosecutor in Minnesota’s largest county, raised her national profile during a Senate Judiciary Committee last fall for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexually assaulting a woman when they were both in high school.
When Klobuchar asked Kavanaugh whether he ever had had so much to drink that he didn’t remember what happened, he turned the question around. He asked Klobuchar, “Have you?”
Unruffled, Klobuchar continued as Kavanaugh asked again. Kavanaugh later apologized to Klobuchar, whose father is an alcoholic.
“When you have a parent who’s an alcoholic, you’re pretty careful about drinking,” she said. “I was truly trying to get to the bottom of the facts and the evidence.”
Among the other Midwestern lawmakers who could also seek the nomination are Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who has been visiting early voting states, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who established an exploratory committee last month.
Klobuchar campaigned with Democrats in Iowa last fall, and in December spoke to progressive farmers and activists about the importance of bridging the divide between urban and rural areas. She said the lesson learned after the 2016 election was “we are not going to leave the Midwest behind.”
“This is the moment for the Midwest,” she said, “and we don’t want to be forgotten again in a national election.”
Area business leaders will discuss how they use data to boost sales and make key decisions during the Economics Indicators breakfast at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse on Feb. 28.
Taggert Brooks, an economics professor at UW-L, will provide an update on the economy in the 7 Rivers Region before a panel of local business people share how data is changing the way they operate.
The event is sponsored by State Bank Financial, the UW-L College of Business Administration and the La Crosse Tribune.
“We’re living in a unique time where we’re awash in data but don’t have the time or bandwidth to handle the analysis of it,” Brooks said. “Say you’re a grocery store or Kwik Trip, and you have loyalty cards. Every time someone scans their card, you get all this data about the customer and frequency of purchase.
“You can do a lot of things with that data. The next step is figuring out how to use that data to improve your business and improve your market share.”
Anne Hlavacka, director of the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center at UW-L, said the influx of data is similar to the social media movement of five or 10 years ago.
“If you were a business and never used Twitter or Facebook, you had to figure out how to use it,” she said. “Now, what drives this issue is the realization that entities have information that they’re just now using to unlock areas they had never really considered: how to reduce costs, make better decisions, emphasize certain customers.
“As information grows, you have to figure out what is and isn’t relevant.”
As for the local economy, Brooks said low foreclosure and unemployment rates suggest advantageous conditions, but that other data sets are not always up to date.
“As you drill down to smaller and smaller geography,” he said, “the frequency of the data really declines.”
In her work, Hlavacka said she has seen clear evidence that the 7 Rivers Region has recovered from the recession that crippled the national economy early in the decade.
More and more small business owners are seeking advice, she said, and their questions themselves signal a healthier local economy.
“If we turn back to the era of the last recession, people wanted to know how to hang on and maneuver in this new environment,” said Hlavacka, noting that her center sees almost twice as many clients annually as it did around 2010. “Now, we’re seeing an interest from people … hoping to expand their business and better use the digital marketplace, things that might not have been done with businesses years ago.”
Bonnie Powell Buchman humbly admits that she worked on her book about near-death experiences for decades, but she finally bore down to finish it before it became a posthumous publication.
At 81, the La Crosse woman already is mulling another tome, perhaps based on her reflections as a landlord, she said in an interview. She insists she’ll live to be 100, so she’ll have time to dawdle on that book, too.
Buchman’s “Living with the Unexplained” actually covers many related topics, as evidenced by its subtitle: “Premonitions, Angels, Near-Death Experiences, Miracles, and Other Unexplained Life Experiences.”
The seed for “Unexplained” was planted when Buchman was 4, on the day of the funeral for her sister, Dorothy, who had died of pneumonia in her mid-20s. Buchman recounts how a wan Dorothy, hospitalized under an oxygen tent over her deathbed, told her and her mother that she saw a bright light surrounding Jesus, who was smiling and beckoning her to join him.
Buchman and her mother, Alma, were not present when Dorothy died shortly thereafter, and the 4-year-old remained puzzled about what had happened to her beloved sister.
On the night of Dorothy’s funeral, Buchman didn’t want to be alone, so she persuaded her mother to crawl into bed with her.
The book recounts what happened next:
“A bright light shining beside my bed startled me awake sometime in the night. … My sleepy eyes couldn’t make out what was in the light, but my mother seemed calm. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ she reassured me. ‘It’s Dorothy. She loves us. She won’t hurt us.’
“Mama followed the light out of my bedroom. ‘Bob!’ she called (to her husband) as she walked into their bedroom.
“‘I know, Alma,’ my father said. ‘I saw Dorothy too. She came in right in front of you, turned to me and disappeared through the wall by the dresser. She wants us to know that she is going to be fine. She’s with God.’”
Several years later, Buchman writes, she herself had a near-death experience when she was severely ill. She found herself thrust into a tunnel, traveling at light speed, until she entered an area of bright light and saw a radiant figure enter through a door.
“I felt so much love, my heart nearly burst. I was not close enough to clearly see the face, but I knew it was Jesus. Moments later, a petite woman dressed in a flowing pale blue gown came through the door and stood next to him. Again, I strained to see who this was … was it Mary, the mother of Jesus?
“Then it came to me. It was Dorothy, whom I had not seen since I was a child. No words were exchanged, just an indescribable love and a wondrous sense of peace,” writes Buchman, a Lutheran.
As quickly as she had been thrust into the tunnel, she emerged and found herself back in her hospital bed, where she recovered from her illness quickly.
Buchman’s book details not only several unexplained experiences in her life — many of which do not include death — over the years but also stories of several contributors who recount what they interpret as messages and signs from loved ones who have passed.
Unexplained events include rainbows seen as signs of peace, whiffs of perfume indicating the presence of a mother who had died and the sudden appearance of a flock of bluebirds after the death of a farmer who had shared a fondness for the birds with his wife.
Buchman hosted a book-signing Saturday for contributors and others whose work is in the book, which is available in Kindle, at $3.99, and paperback, at $14.95, on Amazon. She also has signed books at Pearl Street Books at 323 Pearl St. in La Crosse, which plans to carry the book.
Full disclosure: One of the near-death experiences Buchman chronicles is based on a La Crosse Tribune story published in March 2016 about a soldier who suffered three shots to the chest from an AK-47 during a firefight in August 1970 in Vietnam. He experienced death and felt transported to heaven, where he encountered God.
Buchman, a retired university researcher and teacher, plans to donate proceeds from “Unexplained” to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, explaining, “I’m a Norwegian Lutheran, but I’ve seen all the good they do.”
She hopes people find the experiences she and others have had to be inspirational, instilling hope, which is Dorothy’s middle name and included in Buchman’s decision to christen her publishing arm New Hope Press.
A bonus aspect to the book, which features a photo of Dorothy on the cover, are parts of La Crosse history that Buchman deftly weaves into her account of Dorothy’s aviation career.
Dorothy, a 5-foot-3 dynamo whose 1939 student pilot license pegged her weight at 103, worked in the city clerk’s office. She began flying in 1937 at Pfafflin Airfield, now the La Crosse Regional Airport, on French Island.
Buchman noted the coincidence that her father used to plow the runways at the original La Crosse airport, Salzer Field, which she reports was established in 1919 at Losey Boulevard and Ward Avenue. It was so named because it was on land owned by Salzer Seed Co., which did a fair amount of national and international business from its La Crosse headquarters.
City and Chamber of Commerce officials saw the economic benefits that airplane connections could spawn, so the city bought Salzer Field in 1926, and Northwest Airlines began commercial service there.
Needing a larger field and more modern amenities, the city abandoned Salzer in 1933, and the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors leased a French Island field that became Pfafflin Field, and now, the regional airport.
Buchman cites a La Crosse Tribune story that Dorothy made her first solo flight three months before the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics declared her the best female pilot in the state. Some of Dorothy’s flying career memorabilia is in the 99s Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Now that Buchman has crossed the long-brewing book off her bucket list, her daughters are hoping she stalls on another goal — a trip to Norway — out of fear that could end her aspirational targets.
Besides, she’s ruminating on a book about her trials and tribulations as a landlord, in managing properties she and her husband of 32 years, the late Dr. Delbert Buchman, accumulated.
She recalled the first 10-unit apartment building Dr. Buchman — known around town as “Buck” — acquired in La Crescent.
Puzzled that the financials on the investment looked good, except that it was only half-occupied, Bonnie told Buck she would check it out. After touring the occupied section, she detected an incredibly foul odor coming from the end apartment, where units remained empty.
Looking through the window, she came eye-to-eye with a chimpanzee that obviously was the source of the stink. She contacted the Realtor who had owned the property and asked why he would even rent to a tenant with an animal like that.
Obviously, she said, potential tenants smelled the odor and skedaddled.
He told her not to worry — that the tenant, a stripper who used the chimp in her act in a dive bar, planned to move out soon.
“As a landlord, you have to laugh sometimes,” Buchman said, laughing.