Could Zombie Deer Disease Transmit to Humans?


What is zombie deer disease?

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) that usually dubbed as “zombie deer disease,” has infected elk and deer populations in 24 states in the USA and three Canadian provinces. The disease was first discovered in Colorado in 1967, according to the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and so far, no cases in humans have ever been reported. However, some experts say that there’s possibility it could spread to humans.

The symptoms of CWD “zombie deer”

According to CDC, zombie deer disease can infect animals of all ages and some infected animals may die without ever developing the disease. CWD is fatal to animals and there are no treatments or vaccines.

The symptoms of CWD can include depression, difficulty swallowing, excess salivation, increased thirst, lack of coordination, paralysis, pneumonia, separation from the other animals in the herd, unusual behavior, excessive urination and weight loss (wasting).

Could CWD spread to humans?

If CWD could spread to people, it would most likely be through eating of infected deer and elk. Although, there is no reported cases of CWD infection in humans. However, some animal studies suggest Chronic wasting disease can infect to certain types of non-human primates, like monkeys, that eat meat from CWD-infected animals or come in contact with brain or body fluids from infected deer or elk.

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How CWD transmitted?

According to CDC, CWD proteins (prions) likely spread between animals through body fluids such as feces, saliva, blood, or urine, either through direct contact or indirectly through environmental contamination of soil, food or water. Once introduced into an area or farm, the CWD protein is contagious within deer and elk populations and can spread quickly. Experts believe CWD prions can remain in the environment for a long time, so other animals can contract CWD from the environment even after an infected deer or elk has died.

How to prevent CWD?

Based on CDC research, in 2006-2007, nearly 20 percent of US resident had hunted deer or elk and more than two-thirds said they had eaten venison or elk meat. The U.S Center for Disease Control suggested to the hunters. In order to be as safe as possible and decrease their potential risk of exposure to CWD, hunters should take the following steps when hunting in areas with CWD or zombie deer disease:

  • Do not shoot, handle or eat meat from deer and elk that look sick or are acting strangely or are found dead (road-kill).
  • When field-dressing a deer:
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when dressing the animal or handling the meat. Minimize how much you handle the organs of the animal, particularly the brain or spinal cord tissues. Do not use household knives or other kitchen utensils for field dressing.
  • Check state wildlife and public health guidance to see whether testing of animals is recommended or required. Recommendations vary by state, but information about testing is available from many state wildlife agencies.
  • Strongly consider having the deer or elk tested for CWD before you eat the meat.
  • If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, consider asking that your animal be processed individually to avoid mixing meat from multiple animals.
  • If your animal tests positive for CWD or zombie deer disease, do not eat meat from that animal.
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