Zombie Deer Disease: yeah, it’s real – and it may be headed your way. So far, the disease infects and destroys the brains of deer, elk, and moose but experts warn that chronic wasting disease (CWD), as it is also called, could migrate to humans.As of January 2019, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that CWD among free-ranging wildlife had been reported in 251 counties in 24 U.S. states:Two Canadian provinces have also reported cases of zombie deer disease. The illness has also reportedly afflicted farmed deer and elk.Norway and Finland have both reported zombie deer disease in reindeer and moose. A very few cases of CWD have been logged in South Korea.CWD traces its origins back to Colorado in the late 1960s where it appeared among captive deer populations. The brain disease had spread to wild deer by 1981.
Ten years later, zombie deer disease cases were identified in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming near the original outbreaks.Since 2000, zombie deer disease has increased its range to 24 states, from northern Montana to southern Texas. Detection systems in the Midwest, Southwest, and part of the East Coast have spotted signs of CWD among the cervid (belonging to the deer family) wildlife.It is entirely possible that CWD is breaking out in areas without wildlife surveillance systems that have gone unreported.The cervids who stand in the path of the deadly deer disease are the North American elk or wapiti, red deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, white-tailed deer, sika deer, reindeer, and moose.
Symptoms of CWD include:• Dementia• Hallucinations• Drastic weight loss• Abnormal behavior• Stumbling / difficulty walking• Drooling• Difficulty eating• Lack of coordination• Aggression• Excessive thirst•
Fear of othersSymptoms worsen as the disease worsens until the animal dies.The exact cause of zombie deer disease is not known and there is no known cure.One theory is that CWD is not caused by a bacterium, virus, parasite, or fungi.Rather, it presents as a prion disease, which is “a group of neurodegenerative diseases caused by ‘rogue’ misfolded proteins building up in the brain. Once one prion is formed, these rogue proteins can ‘convert’ more of the normal protein into their abnormal form, setting off a chain reaction that results in a build-up of prions in the brain.”Prions are disease-causing proteins that can’t be killed because they aren’t alive – just like animal zombies.Prion disease is found in all animals, including humans. It is spreading through herds transported to hunting ranches, petting zoos, and Christmas-themed farms. Peter Larsen, an assistant professor in veterinary sciences at the University of Minnesota, is an expert on CWD. The prions “turn the brain into
Swiss cheese,” he said.Most cases of prion disease are sporadic, meaning that they arise spontaneously for no known reason. Other instances are attributed to bad genes. Both sporadic and inherited prion disease forms are found in all global animal populations.Larson made sure to quash any and all horror fans’ fears:”There are no zombie-like symptoms. Instead, the symptoms are what you would expect to see of a very sick animal: thin, weak, and unable to function normally.”And just to put the nail in the coffin – so to speak, he added:”It is important to remember that [this] is a neurodegenerative disease — not a Hollywood zombie disease.”
But others wonder if zombie deer disease is a bacterial infection caused by a pathogen called spiroplasma.An animal infected with CWD can spread prions to other animals through direct or indirect contact with bodily fluids such as feces, saliva, blood, or urine. This means the disease is readily transmitted.CWD is the kind of disease that is hard to get rid of once it gets a good hold on a target population. Its range typically expands.Furthermore, prions are hardy little disease-carriers. They can hang around dormant for years, even tens of years, in wild or domesticated settings just waiting until some cervil with a pulse comes ambling by.
Presently, overall CWD infection rates in free-ranging deer and elk are low but some parts of the country report rates from 10% to as high as 25%.Captive deer experience a much higher infection rate – 79% (almost 4 out of 5) reported from one such herd.So far, zombie deer disease has not been identified in cattle or other domesticated animals.Officially, no human has ever come down with CWD – even after eating meat from an infected animal. However, an August 2018 study from researchers in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, announced the unsettling news that elk CWD prions can alter (infect) the human normal cellular prion protein – at least in under laboratory conditions.Other species affected by CWD, particularly caribou or reindeer, also seem able to change the human normal cellular prion protein.
This means that there is a possibility that CWD could be transmitted from cervids to humans.There are also rumors down on Conspiracy Street that zombie deer disease is, in fact, one form of mad cow disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) can and has infected humans. It killed 156 people in Britain in the late 1990s who had eaten beef tainted by the disease.