Though most recent criticism of Sanjay Gupta is due either to his close ties with pharmaceutical sponsors, irresponsible support for their questionable products like Gardasil and Voixx, or his infamous attack on a popular supporter of single-payer health care in which Gupta cited incorrect data, I am deeply concerned with his apparent lack of awareness regarding public safety in the handling of meat which might be contaminated with the prions which cause CJD, the human form of mad cow disease.
Reliable information on CJD is especially crucial to people who live close to areas known to harbor CWD infected deer herds. The lives of friends and families may depend on responsible advice from trustworthy sources.
Though in my state, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources responsibly publishes precautions for butchering and consuming meat from harvested deer, the likelihood of contracting CJD by ingesting improperly butchered meat rises sharply if a false sense of safety results from erroneous information spread by other traditionally trustworthy sources, such as CNN or the U.S. Surgeon General.
Remarkably, in a March 13, 2006 interview with Anderson Cooper, Gupta not only denied that any human CJD cases have ever occurred in this country, but recklessly advised that normal cooking would destroy any infectious agents. Both statements are contrary to widely available and well established data, including that published by United States Center for Disease Control.
COOPER: So, people eating meat should not be concerned?
GUPTA: No. You know, eating regular meat, you're probably not going to come in contact with these prions, this -- this -- these disease-containing particles. And, if you cook it using a meat thermometer, it should kill off whatever infectious agents there are anyway, so, really, really very little concern. There has never been a case of the human form of mad cow disease, known as CJD -- there has never been a case of it in this country."
From the United States Center for Disease Control:
Three cases of vCJD have been reported from the United States. By convention, variant CJD cases are ascribed to the country of initial symptom onset, regardless of where the exposure occurred. There is strong evidence that suggests that two of the three cases were exposed to the BSE agent in the United Kingdom and that the third was exposed while living in Saudi Arabia.
The CDC findings are conservative in their reluctance to recognize the abundance of sources describing cases of BSE or CWD to human CJD infection within the U.S. Though the 36,000 plus hits from a Google search for, "human form of mad cow disease" does not alone confirm this, article after article from legitimate sources provide an overwhelming body of evidence placing both of Gupta's claims well outside mainstream medical consensus.
But Gupta's most astonishing blunder is in regard to the durability of prions, the infectious agent of CJD.
From the Wisconsin DNR Deer08Regs:
The disease (CWD) is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion, which can survive cooking temperatures.
From Mad Cow Disease and Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, 9/12/2005, by Thomas Wisniewski, MD, Associate Professor, Departments of Neurology, Pathology, and Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine:
A few seemingly sporadic cases (CJD) in young men in Michigan may point to transmission to hunters from deer or elk with chronic wasting disease (CWD)...Because hunters eat the meat of these animals, there is a potential for the prion disease to cross from hunted to hunter.
Prions are highly resistant to heat, ultraviolet light, radiation, and disinfectants that normally kill viruses and bacteria. Prions may infect humans who eat meat from (BSE) infected cattle. Even cooking meat infected with BSE does not eliminate the prions or the risk.
From Deadly Feasts: The "Prion" Controversy and the Public's Health, by Richard Rhodes:
Infectious material drawn from victims of spongiform diseases can be bombarded with radiation, soaked in formaldehyde, baked at 700 degrees -- and it remains infectious.
Though BSE-transmitted CJD deaths remain lower in the U.S. than in many other countries, Gupta's claim that it simply doesn't occur here leaves the impression that CWD or BSE to human crossover is virtually impossible, which for a trained physician is astounding. Misinforming the public by contradicting well established findings that prions cannot be destroyed by cooking is both irresponsible and negligent, and as human lives are involved, possibly criminally so.
If Sanjay Gupta is actually nominated for United States Surgeon General, I think we have more than a few questions regarding both his accuracy and his responsibility.