A deadly disease, that has now spread through the deer population in 24 states and two Canadian provinces, is now a potential threat to humans, experts say.
Scientists from the University of Minnesota spoke to lawmakers this past week about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). A U.S. Geological Survey describes the disease as a “ fatal, neurological illness occurring in North American cervids (members of the deer family), including white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and moose.”
The survey goes on to say:
“Chronic wasting disease is of great concern to wildlife managers. It has been detected in at least 23 states, two Canadian provinces, and South Korea. CWD is not known to infect livestock or humans.
CWD is transmitted directly through animal-to-animal contact, and indirectly through contact with objects or environment contaminated with infectious material (including saliva, urine, feces, and carcasses of CWD-infected animals).”
There are no vaccines for the disease. The progression of diseases like CWD makes this a public health threat.
According to Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota:
“It is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead. It is possible that the number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events,” he said, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
“If Stephen King could write an infectious disease novel, he would write about prions like this,” he added.
Osterholm explained that CWD has the potential to evolve just like mad cow disease. When mad cow disease began to spread, many claimed that those who ate beef were not at risk– which we know now is untrue. A cureless variant of mad cow, disease, called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), can impact humans.
Moreover, both mad cow disease and CWD come from the same family of diseases. Both diseases are known as prion diseases.
If you understand how viruses evolve, you will understand this:
Viruses evolve just like any living creature does. They evolve to survive. To survive, they must continue to spread. To spread they must continue to mutate. This potential, and likely mutation, will possibly hit the human population and we must be prepared.
Symptoms of the disease in deer include:
Drooling, stumbling, lack of coordination, lack of fear of people, aggression, and listlessness — which is how “zombie” deer disease got its nickname. The symptoms are a product of a “malformed prion that kills neurons in the infected animal’s brain,” the University of Minnesota explains.
The CDC states: “animal studies suggest CWD poses a risk to some 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. These studies raise concerns that there may also be a risk to people. Since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended that it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.”
While we currently have only cause for concern for the deer population, this can change as the disease progresses. Awareness is the best way to arm ourselves. If you see deer in your area exhibiting signs of CWD, call animal control immediately. Do not approach the deer yourselves.
We will continue to keep you up-to-date as the story progresses. For more on CWD, check out the video at the bottom of the article.