In deer and elk, CD spreads through bodily fluids, either directly or through contamination of soil, food, or water. Infected humans don’t get BSE, but they do develop a similar (and also fatal) condition called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CD).
And there are zero reported cases of a human getting sick from eating contaminated meat from corvids (members of the deer family), although studies done on monkeys have shown that chronic wasting disease can pose a risk to other animals who come into contact with meat or brain material from infected animals. The spread of CD is also concerning because it’s occurring in wild animals, says Dr. Appleby, as opposed to BSE outbreaks that occasionally happen in domesticated cattle.
Dr. Appleby’s center also studies human cases of CD, to determine whether they came from contaminated meat and are evidence of a new outbreak or if they arose spontaneously. “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,” reports the CDC.
Procedures and facilities vary by region, but several states have set up free testing centers, according to NBC News. When field dressing a deer, hunters should wear latex or rubber gloves, avoid using household knives or kitchen utensils, and minimize how much they handle the animal’s organs, particularly the brain and spinal cord tissue.
And for people who have their deer or elk commercially processed, the CDC recommends asking the facility to avoid mixing meat from multiple animals. “Obviously we don’t think that it’s a good thing for people to eat any kind of meat that could be contaminated with a prion disease,” he says.
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CD is a neurodegenerative disorder that can affect members of the cervix family, which includes deer, elk, reindeer, and moose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.) Prion infections, such as mad cow disease, cause rapid neurological degeneration after the onset of symptoms.
In all cases, the disease is fatal to the animal, however, many don't live long enough to experience many of the purportedly zombie -like” symptoms. Most cases of CD have been reported in Western and Midwestern U.S. states, however, the disease has also been documented in other areas of the country as well as parts of Canada, Norway, Finland, and South Korea.
However, it can remain in an area for a long time, embedding itself in deer populations with infection rates that can be as high as one in four in the wild, and four in five in captive herds. In any case, health authorities stress that the utmost precaution should be taken to prevent human exposure, in order to mitigate any risks that may exist.
“We could be having human transmission occurring today, and we wouldn't even know it,” Michael Waterhole, from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told The Independent. Thus, the CDC recommends that hunters should not shoot, handle or eat meat from deer or elk that look sick or are acting strangely.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources employee Kyle Van Harlan, collects lymph node samples from a white-tailed deer that was shot in Grant County during opening day of the Wisconsin Gun Deer Season on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006. The posts, which circulated online weeks after a spike in coronavirus cases in Myanmar, go on to claim the virus affects brain activity in the infected deer, increasing the animal's “desire to attack ” and to “suck blood”.
The claim is misleading; experts say there is no such virus that causes deer to “attack” or “suck blood”; as of November 2020, there are no reports of animal to human transmission of neurological diseases affecting deer, including chronic wasting disease (CD). The title of the Burmese-language post translates to English as: “Experts express concerns about the Zombie Virus, scarier than the novel coronavirus”.
The infected deer cannot control their brains, resulting in them losing consciousness and developing a desire to attack.” According to the CDC website, there are no reported cases of CD transmission from animals to people.
Multiple keyword searches found no credible reports of health experts expressing “greater concern” about CD in humans. By contrast, health authorities, governments and doctors worldwide have warned about the danger of contracting the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.
These damage normal prion proteins that are mostly found in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in diseases that usually progress quickly after the onset of symptoms and are always fatal. In the case of CD, the protein damage causes holes to develop in the brain of the infected animal, leading to symptoms that may include drastic weight loss (wasting, ) stumbling, listlessness, drooling, a lack of fear and aggression.
These characteristics are why CD has earned the moniker zombie deer disease, with the myth-like suggestion that once they contract it, deer turn into a ghoulish parody of their once healthy selves. However, it is important to note that infected animals may appear perfectly healthy, because symptoms usually don't appear for months or even years.
Furthermore, infected animals often don't even make it to the last stage of the disease, where the most severe symptoms become apparent, Lindsay Thomas Jr. of the Quality Deer Management Association told USA Today. Overall, infection rates in animals across the United States remain low, However, the disease can prove to be very persistent in areas where it has established itself, and the CDC predicts that it is likely to spread further.
Scientists think that the abnormal prions are responsible for causing CD to spread between animals through either direct or indirect (contaminated food, soil or water) contact with bodily fluids, such as feces, saliva, blood or urine. But scientists have shown that monkeys that were given infected deer meat or bodily tissue to eat did contract CD.
Michael Waterhole, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, warned that CD should be treated with the utmost caution. “It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead.
According to the Alliance for Public Wildlife, between 7,000 and 15,000 animals infected with CD are eaten every year, with that figure set to rise, USA Today reported. The CDC recommends that hunters should not shoot, handle or eat meat from deer or elk that look sick or are acting strangely.
Although the disease is a primary concern for wild animals like elk and deer at the moment, there is no evidence that it could have a direct impact on humans. Apart from the US and Canada, cases of CD have also been reported in South Korea, Finland, and Norway.
CD can lead to brain damage, excessive weight loss, and behavior change such as drooling, lack of body coordination, stumbling, excessive urination or thirst. It is because of these characteristics that many people refer to the CD as zombie deer disease.” It is not always obvious when an animal has the disease because it can take up to one year to show the symptoms.
The affected animal may also wander away from the herd into the open, exposing them to hunters. Scientists are still not sure how zombie deer disease spreads, but are of the opinion that by drinking infected water or through contact with affected body fluid or tissue such as saliva, blood, feces, and urine.
The death of an infected animal does not eliminate the disease completely because the risk of spread remains for a long time. According to the CDC, there is no supporting evidence for the possibility of CD spreading to humans.
However, experiments have shown that the disease can affect macaque monkeys which have close genetic similarities with humans. It results from the abnormal folding of the protein in the brain, spinal cord, and other tissues in the body of the animal, causing the animal to exhibit zombie -like symptoms such as rapid loss of weight, stumbling, aggression towards human, and lack of body coordination.