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Scientists Fear Brain-Degenerating Zombie Deer Disease could Spread to People

Across North America, something horrific is happening to deer: they are coming down with some mysterious illness, that over time, destroys the nervous system of the abundant animal.

As scientists are often concerned when it comes to animal disease, they worry that this type of infection could find its way toward humans.

It sounds like they are speaking in uncertain terms, but it was reported that this thing known as chronic wasting disease, otherwise known as “zombie deer disease,” was first observed in the small town of Fort Collins, Colorado in 1967, which was over 50 years ago.

(Image credit: glennhenson.wordpress)

The official narrative is since that discovery, the disease has since infected wild herds of deer in 25 American states and Canada, even going so far as to reach South Korea and Norway.

This is a map showing cases of the disease.

(Image credit: AJC)

This month in Michigan, a 4 year old doe tested positive for the fatal nervous system disease, although the methods used to test for the illness are not known.

In Mississippi, two other deer have reportedly tested positive for the illness. Then, it was reported on October 28 by Missouri news outlet KTTS 94.7 that a female deer found deceased also tested positive for it, which brings the total number of recorded CWD cases observed in free ranging deer in the state of Missouri to 76 since 2011, about 7 years ago.

“CWD passes from animal to animal through prions, misfolded proteins that cause other proteins to misfold around them,” NPR said. “Different prion diseases tend to only harm certain species, but can evolve to overcome those limitations.”

(Image credit: flickr)

With that in mind, in some herds it is reported that as many as half of the deer are carriers of prions.

Prions however, are not transmitted through direct contact. It is through plants and soil actually that sick animals and their cadavers can spread prions they believe, which could actually have a coating of deformed proteins that lasts years or even decades. The site of an infected animal that has passed away could be a deadly site, in other words.

It is currently estimated that a deer infected with this degenerative disease can live for about two years without so much as showing signs of symptoms, which include thick saliva, a vacant stare in their expression, drooping heads, or exposed ribs.

Despite all of this, there have been zero reported human illnesses due to this disease, and scientists haven’t even conclusively found that infected meat is harmful to people, but obviously eating infected meat can’t be a good idea regardless of a species barrier between the disease and people.

Nevertheless, wildlife authorities are trying to push for hunting regulations in Colorado and Pennsylvania to fight the disease spreading.

Then, a study from January proceeded to raise more concern. It’s not like there are a ton of wild monkeys running around America, but researchers led by associate director at Colorado State University’s Prion Research Center, Mark Zabel, found that macaque monkeys who ate infected deer meat did in fact contract the disease, for the first time showing that a primate can catch it through meat.

(Image credit: zmescience)

“While most research shows there’s a robust species barrier, this recent study showed that barrier might not be quite as robust as we once thought,” head of the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance in Fort Collins, Colorado, Matt Dunfee said to NPR.

It certainly is disturbing that it managed to cross the species barrier to monkeys. Should we be concerned?

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