Zombie deer disease takes over United States


Tate W., Staff Editor

In recent months, a new disease among deer and elk populations has been discovered in the U.S. The disease has been named informally as the “zombie deer disease,” but is known scientifically as “chronic wasting disease.” The outbreak was relatively small at first, but has gained recognition through a recent increase in numbers throughout the past few months. As of January 1, 24 different states reported cases of the disease in deer and elk populations.

Chronic wasting disease gets its informal name of “zombie deer disease” through the symptoms that it causes to be present in those that it effects. The disease causes neurodegeneration, resulting in behavior that closely resembles symptoms of dementia. Deer that have been infected have been seen to be stumbling around unaware of their surroundings. It is also known to cause rapid weight loss that eventually leads to death.

The scary part about Chronic Wasting Disease is that it is caused by prions, and thus is irreversible once the disease takes over. Prions are infected proteins which are not alive and also cannot be killed. Such discoveries have made it especially scary with the prospect of the disease spreading to humans. The disease can only be spread to humans through ingestion of an infected animal, making it very controllable and preventable.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota has drawn parallels between chronic wasting disease and mad cow disease. Both are spread through prions, and cause similar symptoms in those it infects. Osterholm thinks that it is better to be proactive and take the correct precautionary steps before things get out of hand. He also stated that the prospect of humans becoming infected is “probable and possible,” also adding that human cases “will be substantial and not isolated events.”

Despite all of this, there is yet to be a documented case of the disease in humans. The disease has almost remained strictly within deer and elk populations, and now that the pathogen has been brought to light as a significant public health issue, there are many safety measures which can be taken to prevent the spreading of the disease to humans.