Home » Zombie deer disease, it’s all true: what it is and what we risk

Zombie deer disease, it’s all true: what it is and what we risk

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Zombie deer disease, it’s all true: what it is and what we risk

Zombie Apocalypse? – The Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer Raises Alarms in the USA

The nightmares of millions of people fascinated by film sagas and themed video games ‘zombie’ may soon materialize. The reality of things could be even more frightening, certainly alarming, with a disease spreading through the woods. The official name is chronic wasting disease of deer (CWD), but is known as zombie deer disease. The alarm has already been raised in the USA.

What is chronic wasting disease and how does it work
CWD is a subtle disease that acts gradually, affecting vital functions over time. It all starts with small walking problems, where it is difficult to associate the symptom with the problem. Later, the deer begin to lose weight and tend to isolate themselves from the rest of the herd. They lose lucidity and over time begin to wander without a specific destination, staring into space and drooling. A condition that makes us understand why animals end up being associated with zombies. The deer also progressively lose the ability to feed themselves and once they reach this stage of the disease there is no possibility of salvation for them. The frightening consequences of the disease on animals make us wonder what risks there may be for humans and whether, in the worst-case scenario, we need to prepare for a zombie apocalypse.

The first case in Yellowstone Park: how many there are today
The first documented case of the disease is far from recent and dates back to 1967. Patient zero was a mule deer housed in a facility in Colorado. The abnormal symptoms immediately set off alarm bells, but it took more than 10 years for CWD to be recognized as a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, following the study of some infected wild deer in 1981. Since the 2000s, the disease has spread to more than 30 states in the USA, but it could also be present in those places where no cases have yet been recorded to date, due to checks that are not always thorough. Nationally, the overall presence of CWD remains low, although in some places infection rates exceed 10%, with peaks of 25%. In recent weeks, the pathology has been found in 800 deer and elk in the State of Wyoming alone. It’s a scary number, considering that the first recorded case in Yellowstone National Park dates back to November 2023. It was a mule deer whose carcass was found. The transmissibility of the disease that turns humans into zombies is now the alarming unknown, considering that in 2017 alone, consumption was estimated at between 7,000 and 15,000 infected animals.

Can zombie deer infect humans? Alarm in the USA
The pathology is always fatal and kills without leaving any possibility of salvation within 8 months of the onset of the first ones symptoms. There is no cure for CWD either vaccines. Furthermore, during laboratory tests, you demonstrated that you can infect human cells, as highlighted in the study Chronic Wasting Disease of Elk: Transmissibility to Humans Examined by Transgenic Mouse Models. The most worrying aspect of this devastating disease is precisely the possibility of the so-called species jump, with transmission to humans and consequences that cannot currently be predicted. Experts believe that it may be possible, as happened in the past with the disease mad cow. No cases have yet been detected in humans, but the explosive spread of the disease and contacts between deer and humans, as well as the consumption of infected meat, they could set off the fuse at any time. The potential dangers were explained by Samuel J. White and Philippe B. Wilson, two researchers from the University of Nottingham, who published an article in The Conversation.

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What is a prion and what does mad cow disease have to do with it
Zombie deer disease is a neurological condition caused by prions, which are misfolded proteins capable of transmitting the abnormality to healthy ones. The more prion protein in the brain, the worse the symptoms. It is not a virus and therefore lacks any genetic information. Its discoverer is Stanley Ben Prusiner, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1997. Zombie deer and mad cow disease are both phenomena involving neurological diseases that affect animals, leading to abnormal behavior and health problems. In both cases they lead to the death of the infected animal. 30 years after the explosion of the epidemic affecting cattle, it is legitimate to ask ourselves whether we may find ourselves faced with a similar problem again. That humans remain infected remains a remote possibility, but prion diseases remain a danger for our species too, because they can also spread through the consumption of meat, just like the famous mad cow disease.

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