What to Know
- “Zombie Deer Disease” – scientifically known as Chronic Wasting Disease –causes neurological damage in animals like deer, elk and moose.
- No cases of CWD have been reported in human beings, nor is there direct evidence that people can contract the illness.
- However, results of the 2017 study raise concerns that CWD may present a risk to humans, according to the CDC.
An illness known as “Zombie Deer Disease” has been reported in 22 U.S. states and two provinces in Canada, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Zombie Deer Disease” – scientifically known as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) –causes animals like deer, elk and moose to develop neurological injuries and suffer drastic weight loss, according to the CDC. The fatal disease affects the animals’ brain, spinal cord and other tissues throughout the body.
The disease has colloquially become known as “Zombie Deer Disease” because of the zombie-like symptoms in the animals, which include vacant stares, drooling and lack of fear of people. The disease is always fatal to animals, according to the CDC.
While the disease can be transmitted among animals through bodily fluids such as feces, saliva, blood and urine, scientists are concerned about the potential impact on humans.
In July 2017, a study from Canadian and German scientists showed the illness could be transmitted to macques, a type of monkey more genetically similar to humans than other animals infected with CWD. The macques contracted the disease after eating infected deer/elk meat, some of which came from deer that hadn’t started showing symptoms yet.
No cases of CWD have been reported in human beings, nor is there direct evidence that people can contract the illness. However, the results of the 2017 study raise concerns that CWD may present a risk to humans and “suggest that it is important to prevent human exposures to CWD,” the CDC said.
CWD was first identified in Colorado in the late 1960s. It is classified as a “Prion disease,” a group of rare neurogenerative disorders that involve abnormal agents called “prions.”
In January 2018, cases of CWD were reported in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Although the disease has not been reported in humans, the CDC cautions hunters and people who eat deer and elk to be aware of the sickness as a safety precaution. The CDC recommends not to handle or eat meat from a deer or elk that looks sick, is acting strangely, or was found dead. The agency also recommends wearing gloves when handling meat and avoid making contact with the brain or spinal cord tissues.
To view the CDC’s complete prevention recommendations, click here.