Experts warn ‘zombie deer disease’ could spread to humans

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A deadly disease that causes deer to act like zombies is on the rise across the US and parts of Canada – and experts warn it could soon spread to humans.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD), also known as ‘zombie deer disease,’ has been reported in 22 states and two Canadian provinces as of this month.

The infection attacks the brain, spinal cord, and other tissues in deer, elk, and moose, resulting in dramatic weight loss, lack of coordination, and even aggression before they eventually die.

While it’s not yet known to be transmissible to humans, a recent study found for the first time that macaques could get the disease after consuming infected meat, sparking fears that a variant targeting humans could soon emerge.

The infection attacks the brain, spinal cord, and other tissues in deer, elk, and moose, causing them to physically waste away before they die. The disease earned its nickname from the bizarre symptoms it causes, including a vacant stare and exposed ribs

Warnings over ‘zombie deer disease’ have caused many to draw parallels to the mad cow epidemic.

For now, however, there’s no evidence that people can be harmed by infected meat, according to Colorado Public Radio.

CWD was first spotted just 50 years ago, with Colorado said to be the epicentre. 

It can be found in both free-ranging and farmed animals, and is known to have horrifying effects on those it infects – but, it can be years before an animal begins to show signs.

The disease earned its nickname from the bizarre symptoms it causes, including a vacant stare and exposed ribs, as it causes the animal to physically waste away.

But to date, there have been no reported infections in humans. 

Scientists have been hard at work attempting to better understand its distribution, and how it could evolve.

In the last hunting season, CWD testing for mule deer in some areas was required by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, according to CPR.

While it’s long been thought that there may be a ‘species barrier’ preventing it from spreading from deer to humans, the recent findings suggest the risk may be higher than previously suspected.

A deadly disease that causes deer to act like zombies is on the rise across the US and parts of Canada. Chronic wasting disease (CWD), also known as ¿zombie deer disease,¿ has been reported in 22 states (shown) and two Canadian provinces as of this month

A deadly disease that causes deer to act like zombies is on the rise across the US and parts of Canada. Chronic wasting disease (CWD), also known as ‘zombie deer disease,’ has been reported in 22 states (shown) and two Canadian provinces as of this month

AS ‘ZOMBIE DEER DISEASE’ RISES: WHAT IS IT, AND HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF?

As of January 2018, Chronic wasting disease (CWD), also known as ‘zombie deer disease,’ has been reported in 22 states and two Canadian provinces.

The infection attacks the brain, spinal cord, and other tissues in deer, elk, and moose, resulting in dramatic weight loss, lack of coordination, and even aggression before they eventually die.

There is no evidence yet that it can infect humans, and no such cases have been reported, according to the CDC.

But, a recent study found macaques could get the disease after consuming infected meat, sparking fears that a variant that also infects humans could eventually emerge.

Officials are urging precaution, however, to minimize any potential risks.

For hunters and others who live in areas where CWD is present, the CDC says:   

  • Do not shoot, handle or eat meat from deer and elk that look sick or are acting strangely or are found dead (road-kill).
  • When field-dressing a deer:
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when dressing the animal or handling the meat.
  • Minimize how much you handle the organs of the animal, particularly the brain or spinal cord tissues.
  • Do not use household knives or other kitchen utensils for field dressing.
  • Check state wildlife and public health guidance to see whether testing of animals is recommended or required. Recommendations vary by state, but information about testing is available from many state wildlife agencies.
  • Strongly consider having the deer or elk tested for CWD before you eat the meat.
  • If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, consider asking that your animal be processed individually to avoid mixing meat from multiple animals.
  • If your animal tests positive for CWD, do not eat meat from that animal.

Given how recently it was first discovered and the likelihood that it’s still evolving, some scientists suspect ‘it’s only a matter of time before a prion emerges that can spread to humans,’ Mark Zabel, associate director of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, told CPR.

The CDC is urging hunters in regions where CWD is known to be present to test their meat before eating it, and take several safety precautions in these locations.

And, officials in Canada aren’t taking any chances.

‘While extensive disease surveillance in Canada and elsewhere has not provided any direct evidence that CWD has infected humans, the potential for CWD to be transmitted to humans cannot be excluded,’ Health Canada’s Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB) said in an advisory issued this past spring.

‘In exercising precaution, HPFB continues to advocate that the most prudent approach is to consider that CWD has the potential to infect humans.’

 





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