By Stephen M. Lepore for Dailymail.Com
00:02 December 27, 2023, updated 00:06 December 27, 2023
- The deadly brain virus, which leaves animals confused, drooling and unafraid of humans, could one day infect humans, some authorities have warned.
- Today, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has detected the virus in 32 states and four Canadian provinces.
- Most reported cases are in the Upper Midwest, as well as the Mid-Atlantic states.
At least 32 states in America and parts of Canada have received reports of a virus dubbed “zombie deer disease” that could potentially spread to humans in what one expert is calling a “slow-burn disaster.”
The deadly brain virus, which leaves animals confused, drooling and unafraid of humans, could one day infect humans, some authorities warn.
The alarm was raised after a deer carcass tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming in November.
Today, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has detected the virus in 32 states and four Canadian provinces.
Most reported cases are in the Upper Midwest, as well as the Mid-Atlantic states.
Kansas, Nebraska and Wisconsin have all seen more than 40 counties report cases of the virus, according to USA Today.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, who has studied the spread of so-called “mad cow disease,” is the one who sounded the alarm in The Guardian, calling it a “slow-moving disaster.”
Scientists believe there is a very real possibility that the disease could spread to humans.
Both Dr. Cory Anderson and Osterholm say thousands of people likely ate meat from infected deer.
Anderson told the Guardian: “The BSE (mad cow) outbreak in Britain provided an example of how, overnight, things can become chaotic when a contagion event occurs, for example. example, from livestock to humans. »
“We’re talking about the possibility of something similar happening,” said Anderson, program co-director at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
He added: “No one is saying this is definitely going to happen, but it’s important that people are prepared.”
According to Anderson, whose study focused on CWD’s transmission routes, the disease is “invariably fatal, incurable and highly contagious,” he said.
“The problem is that we do not have a simple and effective way to eradicate it, neither from the animals it infects, nor from the environment it contaminates.”
CWD is a prion-borne disease, similar to “mad cow,” that can cause weight loss, loss of coordination, and other neurological symptoms that are potentially fatal in deer and related species.
The U.S. National Park Service said last month: “There is currently no evidence that CWD can infect humans or domestic animal species. »
But the federal agency particularly warned game hunters: “it is recommended not to consume tissues from animals infected with CWD.”
Samples taken from the body of the infected mule deer tested positive for CWD in multiple cycles conducted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Wildlife Health Laboratory.
Typical tests on live and dead animals involve taking tissue from a creature’s nervous system, either from the central nervous system, such as the spinal cord, or from peripheral systems, such as the retropharyngeal lymph nodes and tonsils.
Studies have shown that the disease poses a risk to non-human primates, including monkeys, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“These studies raise concerns about the potential risk to people,” the agency said. “Since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended preventing agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.”
Yellowstone park officials said they are working with WGFD to monitor the park’s deer and other ungulate species, dead and alive, to better assess the extent of CWD’s spread in the national park.
Yellowstone National Park officials said the discovery prompted them to revise park rules. CWD Surveillance Plan 2021 – with a new version of the protocol expected next year.
Park spokesperson Morgan Warthin said Yellowstone also plans to increase collaborative efforts with the WGFD to identify areas of the park at increased risk of disease.
CWD was first detected in mule deer in Wyoming in 1985, in the southeastern region of the state.
The following year, the deadly brain disease was discovered in Wyoming elk, according to WGFD.
The disease’s arrival in Yellowstone marks the end of a decades-long westward spread across the state, reaching the national park’s location in the northwest corner of Wyoming.
Wyoming game officials had tracked the mule deer from March 2023 to October 2023, when its GPS tag indicated it was likely dead.
Their search for his body led them to a landmass between the south and southeast arms of Yellowstone Lake known as the Promontory.
North of the park, Montana state wildlife regulators also participate in the effort and monitor game taken by their state’s local hunters.
A Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 3 spokesperson, Morgan Jacobsen, told The Daily Montanan that many cases of CWD have not yet been detected in the state’s hunting districts bordering Yellowstone.
Jacobsen described the news as a “data hot spot,” but not one that would dramatically change Montana’s CWD surveillance plans.
“We will continue our monitoring and communication with the park and continue to work with hunters as the primary management tool for CWD in Montana,” Jacobsen said.
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