This week, you reportedly came across reports that a "zombie" deer disease is on the rise and is said to be a threat to human health. The actual name of the disease is chronic wasted disease (CWD) – and it is currently only known that it affects some wild animals. However, it appears that had recently attracted attention in the media after infectious disease researchers raised concerns about the recent spread of CWD and possible human impairment.
CWD is not new and was first discovered in the 1960s, according to the Centers for the Control and Prevention of Diseases (CDC). However, the CDC claims that the disease is more prevalent in the Midwest, Southwest, and some East Coast states.
The disease was identified as of January in at least 24 states of the US, the CDC, states. This number could be higher, but not all states have strong animal monitoring systems, the organization notes. "Once CWD has established itself in an area, the risk can remain in the environment for a long time," says the CDC. "The affected areas are likely to expand further."
Before you panic, the disease is primarily a known problem for wildlife such as deer, moose and elk. There is no conclusive evidence at this point that CWD could affect humans . However, as the disease is still largely unknown, some experts think that caution should be exercised – especially for those who consume meat from these animals.
Therefore, here we know what we know about the disease and how you can protect yourself until more is found out.
CWD is a progressive, deadly disease that can cause strange behavior in animals.
It is a type of prion disease, that is proteins called prions. These proteins normally occur normally on the surface of cells, explains Johns Hopkins Medicine . However, when they become abnormal or clump together in the brain, prions can cause other problematic changes in the body that cause brain damage, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. Why these prion proteins change in a harmful way is not yet understood. (You've probably heard of Mad Cow Disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, another type of prion disease.)
CWD specifically affects the brain, spinal cord, and other tissues of bred and free deer tissue, Moose and moose, says the CDC . This can lead to brain damage, drastic weight loss and behavioral changes such as tripping, lack of coordination, listlessness, drooling, excessive thirst or urination, flabby ears, lack of fear or aggression, says the CDC (This is probably the reason why people sometimes do as a "zombie" stag call). However, it may take up to a year for an animal to show symptoms, so it is not always obvious when an animal has a CWD.
Scientists do not know exactly how the CWD spreads, but they believe that this happens through contact with contaminated body fluids and tissues or by infecting drinking water or food.
There is growing concern that CWD can be transmitted to humans.
According to the CDC, the CWD prion was found to be infectious in research squirrel monkeys, lab mice, and macaque monkeys. The macaque monkey study revealed that the monkeys developed CWD after eating infected deer and moose meat, and part of the meat came from infected stags that had CWD but did not show any symptoms. Other investigations published in April 2018 in the Journal of Virology failed to prove any transmission to macaques.
Whether this can be transmitted to humans or not is not possible now, of course. "We have not seen any cases of CWD in humans, but that does not mean it has not happened," says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told SELF. "This disease is difficult to diagnose." It also took a long time to prove that cows' mad cow disease could pass from cows to humans, he notes, and there is a fear that this will be the case with CWD as well. 19659015] "It's biologically possible for CWD to infect humans," says William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine, to SELF. "At this point, we can not say that it will never happen, and we can not say it will happen. But there are many concerns that this will be the case.
Hunters and humans who eat deer, moose and elk meat are theoretically the most vulnerable.
If CWD is able to transmit to humans, this is most likely due to the consumption of infected meat, says the CDC . Because CWD is a prion disease, Dr. Adalja, cooking the meat would not reduce the risk of you being exposed to this disease, as would be the case with pathogens like E. coli or Salmonella.
There is not a known cure or vaccine for CWD and treatment in general can only help to slow the progression of the disease, the CDC said. Therefore, hunters should follow the current recommendations of the CDC in order to be as safe as possible with respect to CWD. For example, the CDC suggests minimizing the time you spend dealing with the animal's organs (especially the brain and spinal cord) and having the animal tested before consumption.
Adalja says CWD is "probably an undervalued threat to human health", we do not yet know why some experts are concerned. "CWD is all scared because there are no clear and complete answers," Dr. Conductor. While we wait for these answers, it is a "very healthy idea" to be extra careful with these animals.