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Should brain tanning be a lost art? Potential hazards of processing mad deer.

Harvey G; Lentz T
American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition, May 10-15, 2003, Dallas, Texas. Fairfax, VA: American Industrial Hygiene Association, 2003 May; :71
The recent Bovine Spogiform Encephalopathy crisis in the United Kingdom has brought international attention to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), neurological disorders that produce holes in brain and spinal tissue leading to dementia and death. TSEs such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, scrapie in sheep and goats, and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in North American deer and elk are believed to be caused by self-replicating infectious proteins called prions. Prions are highly stable and resistant to drying, freezing, boiling, and other conventional sterilization techniques. Although research suggests that intraspecial transmission of TSEs is markedly more common than interspecial transmission, studies have shown that 1 gram of infected brain or central nervous system tissue is theoretically enough to transfer a TSE across species. On this premise, an investigation was performed to determine the potential hazards involving use of deer brains for traditional leather tanning techniques employed by some North American Indians and primitive technology enthusiasts. While brain tanning is a cottage industry, a review of books, articles, on-line materials, and a video indicate that this craft is actively practiced. The review found that brain tanning processes employ minimal precautions, and the potential for dermal contact with infectious brain material exists. Brain-tanned products may also present a hazard for transmission to a wider population. Details of the brain tanning process are described with attention to possible routes of exposure, a characterization of numbers of persons involved in brain tanning and peripheral industries, and recommendations for hazard communication and preventive measures to address the potential for occupational exposures to a TSE. Conclusions regarding additional surveillance of this are presented.
Hazards; Neurological-system; Brain-damage; Brain-disorders; Proteins; Central-nervous-system; Occupational-exposure; Infectious-diseases; Neurological-diseases
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American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition, May 10-15, 2003, Dallas, Texas
Page last reviewed: May 11, 2023
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division