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“Chronic Wasting Disease, or ‘Zombie Deer Disease,’ Spreading in North America Raises Concerns of Potential Human Transmission”

Chronic Wasting Disease, also known as CWD or “Zombie Deer Disease,” is a growing concern in North America. This prion disease has been spreading among deer populations, with Wyoming being particularly affected. Over 800 samples have been found in deer, elk, and moose in the state. However, CWD has also been detected in at least 31 other states across the U.S., and its reach is expected to expand further.

CWD is a prion disease, which means it is caused by abnormal proteins that misfold healthy brain proteins, leading to neurological damage. Infected animals may exhibit symptoms such as drooling, lethargy, weight loss, stumbling, and vacant gazes. It can take over a year for these signs to appear, and some animals may die from CWD without ever showing symptoms. Unfortunately, there are currently no cures or vaccines available for this deadly disease.

The transmission of CWD between animals occurs through body fluids like saliva, blood, urine, and feces. Animals can pass it to each other through direct contact or by coming into contact with contaminated soil, food, or water. Once CWD enters an area or farm, it spreads rapidly among deer and elk populations.

While there have been no confirmed cases of CWD in humans, there is concern about potential human health risks. Other prion diseases, such as “mad cow disease,” have spread from animals to humans in the past. In fact, mad cow disease has resulted in the deaths of millions of cattle and 178 humans since 1995. A study published in JNeurosci found that CWD can infect human cells under laboratory conditions. Scientists believe that the consumption of infected deer populations could be a potential route of transmission to humans.

Detecting and diagnosing prion diseases in humans is challenging because prions do not activate the immune system like typical infectious agents. This makes it difficult to detect them using standard methods, hindering early intervention and containment efforts.

The spread of CWD also poses ecological and economic risks. Deer hunting is not only a popular recreational activity but also a vital source of food and income for many communities. The disruption of this balance due to CWD could harm deer populations and food security. Additionally, deer play a crucial role in shaping ecosystems by influencing plant growth and providing habitat for other wildlife. If deer decline due to CWD, it could have far-reaching effects on plants, soil, and other animal species that depend on them.

CWD is not limited to North America. Cases have been reported in Norway, Finland, Sweden, and South Korea. It is possible that CWD may exist in other countries with minimal or weak animal surveillance systems.

To prevent the spread of CWD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidelines for hunters. These include avoiding shooting, handling, or consuming meat from deer and elk that appear sick or behave strangely. When dressing a deer, it is recommended to use latex or rubber gloves, handle the organs as little as possible, and avoid using household knives or utensils. Hunters should also check state wildlife and public health guidelines for testing recommendations and consider testing the deer or elk for CWD before consuming the meat. If the animal tests positive, it is advised to refrain from consuming its meat.

While further research is needed, there are currently vaccines being developed and undergoing clinical trials in Canada. These vaccines hold promise for preventing the spread of CWD in the future.

In conclusion, Chronic Wasting Disease, or “Zombie Deer Disease,” is a concerning issue in North America. Its spread among deer populations poses risks to both animal and human health. The ecological and economic impacts are also significant. Preventive measures such as following CDC guidelines for hunters and supporting vaccine development are crucial in combating this disease. Continued research and surveillance are necessary to understand and mitigate the threat of CWD.


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