There is growing concern about a mysterious infectious disease that has been spreading among the wild deer population for decades. Scientists call it CWD or chronic wasting disease. Hunters refer to this condition as zombie deer disease. It can also affect elk and moose.
Where Are the Zombie Deer?
The CDC reports that this infectious disease has spread to wildlife in 24 states and two Canadian provinces. CWD was first detected in Colorado among captive deer in the 1960s and in the wild deer population in the 1980s. Zombie deer disease has now spread from the Western states to the Midwest, Southwest and some parts of the East Coast (CDC, Jan. 2019).
The disease appears to be caused by a prion infection that is reminiscent of mad cow disease. Technically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, mad cow disease is a lethal neurological disorder of cattle. People who eat meat from contaminated cattle put themselves at risk of a serious neurological disorder called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Can People Catch Zombie Deer Disease?
An infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota has warned that hunters who eat contaminated deer meat may eventually develop the human equivalent of chronic wasting disease. To date, no human cases have been reported. However, the incubation period may be quite long. Consequently, public health officials strongly recommend against eating deer, elk or moose that appear sick. They also suggest testing such game for CWD before consuming the meat, although the testing may not be readily available in all communities.
The animal in the picture is a healthy-appearing white-tailed deer.