A case of chronic wasting disease in Yellowstone National Park has raised concerns about its spread to humans.
In what scientists are calling a “slow-burn disaster,” “zombie deer disease” is spreading across the United States after a case was detected in Yellowstone National Park.
This deadly disease has no cure and occurs in deer and elk, but studies suggest it could spread to humans.
Here’s what we know about the disease and whether people should be concerned.
What is zombie deer disease?
Zombie deer is a chronic wasting disease (CWD) that first appears in deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a national agency health in the United States. It’s unclear exactly how the name “zombie deer” came about.
It eats away at the brains of these animals and causes dementia-like symptoms, eventually leading to death. There is also no treatment or vaccine.
CWD is spread by prions – a set of nearly indestructible proteins that affect both animals and humans. They cause a type of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorder, meaning it affects the nervous system and gets progressively worse.
The World Health Organization has urged preventing the causative agents of known prion diseases, such as animals infected with zombie deer disease, from entering the human food chain. However, there is no strong evidence that humans can be infected by CWD prions from animals.
What are the symptoms of zombie deer disease?
The disease’s prions cause cells in the brain and spinal cord to misfold and begin to clump together.
About a year after being infected, animals begin to show symptoms such as dementia, wobbling, drooling, aggression and weight loss.
Where has zombie deer disease been detected?
A deer carcass in Yellowstone National Park tested positive for the disease in mid-November, the National Park Service said.
The CDC also reported that “as of November 2023, CWD in free-ranging deer, elk, and/or moose has been reported in at least 31 states in the continental United States, as well as three provinces in the Canada.”
Cases have also been reported in Norway, Finland, Sweden and South Korea.
However, the very first case of zombie deer disease was first discovered in Colorado in 1967, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Chronic wasting disease was confirmed in a Yellowstone National Park mule deer found near Yellowstone Lake.
To avoid bringing CWD home, we will all need to take additional steps on the ground to be part of the solution. To learn more, visit https://t.co/iHGnrGPmFn pic.twitter.com/5MGtElizlk
– The TRCP (@TheTRCP) November 20, 2023
What is the risk of disease spreading from zombie deer to humans?
So far, there have been no reported cases of zombie deer disease being transmitted to humans.
Experimental research on CWD, however, suggests that it is a possibility, especially if humans eat infected meat. Currently, the CDC estimates that up to 15,000 animals infected with CWD are eaten each year.
Additionally, the temperatures needed to cook its prions in meat are much higher than normal cooking temperatures.
In animals, it is spread through saliva, urine, blood or feces. Prions can also stay in environments for a long time, according to the CDC.
Have diseases ever spread from animals to humans?
It’s quite common. In the 1980s and 1990s, “mad cow” disease spread from animals to humans in the United Kingdom. A total of 232 people have died from the disease worldwide, according to the US-based Food and Drug Administration.
From rabies to avian flu, zoonotic diseases – which can spread from animals to humans – have long been a major public health challenge, exacerbated by the increasing intrusion of humans into the natural habitats of many species. animal species.
It is also widely believed that COVID-19, the world’s most devastating pandemic in a century, spread to humans from animals at a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Nearly 7 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19 in less than four years.
What precautions can people take against zombie deer disease?
The CDC has listed several precautions against eating CWD-infected meat, such as:
- Test hunted animals before eating the meat.
- Avoid “deer and elk that appear sick, behave strangely, or are found dead.”
- Use latex or rubber gloves when removing internal organs from hunted deer, while minimizing contact with brain and spinal cord tissue.
- Do not use household knives or kitchen utensils to handle deer meat.
Determining whether a deer is infected can only happen after it dies, because testing requires tissue samples located deep in the brain.
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