Researchers Concerned over the Possibility of a 100% Fatal Ailment known as ‘Zombie Deer Disease’

Zombie Deer Disease
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Scientists are raising concerns about the spread of “zombie deer disease,” also known as chronic wasting disease, amid fears that it could evolve to infect humans. Late last year, Yellowstone National Park reported its first case of the disease after a deer carcass in the Wyoming area tested positive. Since then, cases have been documented in deer, elk, and moose across 33 US states, as well as in Canada, Norway, and South Korea. Chronic wasting disease damages parts of the brain, leading to progressive loss of body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation, and ultimately death. It is 100% fatal, with no available treatments or vaccines. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, emphasized the lack of preparedness for a potential spillover into humans, highlighting the absence of contingency plans for managing such a scenario.

Scientists warn that the most probable route for humans to contract the disease would be through consuming infected venison. Despite up to 15,000 infected deer and elk being consumed annually, there have been no documented cases of the disease in humans. However, this does not eliminate the possibility of the disease mutating. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is caused by misfolded proteins called prions, similar to another prion disease initially found in animals that has since evolved to infect humans. Sabine Gilch, a researcher at the University of Calgary in Canada, recently highlighted how mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, managed to cross the transmission barrier from animals to humans. She explained that during the BSE crisis, contaminated meat or food products transmitted BSE to humans, resulting in a new form of human prion disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

While Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is not transmitted directly from person to person through direct contact or airborne spread, scientists speculate that chronic wasting disease could be transmitted through such means.

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