What is ‘zombie deer disease’ and are humans at risk? What you need to know

Are you aware of the zombie-like illness that affects humans but not animals?

Well, there’s a twist in the plot now. Hundreds of animals in the United States are grappling with what’s being termed as “zombie deer disease,” a development that experts describe as a “slow-moving disaster,” prompting countries to brace themselves in case it jumps to humans.

what exactly is this “zombie deer disease”?

It’s a lethal and contagious condition known as chronic wasting disease (CWD), also dubbed as “zombie deer disease” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This malady primarily targets cervids, which include deer, elk, caribou, reindeer, and moose. Symptoms include weight loss, lack of coordination, lethargy, listlessness, and drooling, giving the infected animals an eerie “zombie” appearance. The disease is caused by misfolded proteins called prions, which accumulate in the brain and other tissues, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, and eventual death.

When did this eerie ailment first rear its head?

According to the US Geological Survey, CWD was initially identified in Colorado in 1967 and has since spread to various states and even across borders.

How does the disease spread?

It’s a slow burner, often incubating for over a year before symptoms manifest. Animals can contract it through direct contact with infected individuals or indirectly by encountering contaminated environmental particles like soil, plants, or excrement. Furthermore, contamination of animal feed or pasture by prions can also lead to infection.

Is there any cure for this ailment?

Unfortunately, there’s currently no vaccine or treatment available for zombie deer disease, adding to the urgency of the situation.

The number of cases is on the rise, particularly in America. Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming reported its first case when a hunter killed a two-year-old white-tailed deer in November. Since then, around 800 samples from moose, elk, and deer in the state have tested positive for the disease. According to the CDC, 31 states in the US have recorded instances of CWD.

This problem isn’t confined to North America alone. Cases have also been reported in moose and reindeer in Norway, Finland, and Sweden, with a few imported instances noted in South Korea. Additionally, three Canadian provinces have reported CWD cases.

But can this disease make the leap to humans?

Thus far, there have been no reported cases of zombie deer disease affecting humans. However, some scientists caution governments to be prepared, drawing parallels to past outbreaks like mad cow disease in Britain. The lack of a known cure or eradication method for both the infected animals and the contaminated environment adds to the concern.

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