Zombie deer infographic

Don’t let them bite you! News of deers infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD) is spreading throughout the U.S. 

Horrific scenes of flesh-eating zombies have come closer to reality. 

In the form of “zombie deers.” 

Mark Zabel, an associate director and professor of the Prion Research Center of Colorado University said through email, “We really do not know for sure how the disease started. It could be a spontaneous disease like other prion diseases in humans and sheep, for example.”

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, “prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals.”

Cases of “zombie deers” infected with chronic wasting disease have spread across 24 states and two Canadian provinces, and have made headlines over the last months. 

“I am concerned about the disease spreading to the deer, elk or moose indirectly through contaminated environments,” said Zabel.

Zabel further explained that because prions are so stable, they will likely continue accumulating and spreading to uninfected animals in the environment. It threatens the survival of these animals, the ecosystems of which they are a part of and the ecosystems that rely on these animals. 

Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disease and has been around for a long time.

The first case dates as far back as 1976. It was considered a clinical disease. 

A captive mule containing the disease was examined at the Foothills Wildlife Research Facility in Fort Collins, Colorado, according to CWD-Info, a site specializing on the disease and its timeline. 

One video in particular has been spreading around the internet, causing worry about the disease in many states. 

The video surfaced on YouTube and shows a malnourished zombie-like deer walking through the forest. Large fist-sized growths dangle from its face while its jaw hangs low. The hunters filming the deer slung an arrow in its direction, sending the deer running into the forest to where it would come to rest. 

“Wow, what the heck is that?” said computer engineering junior John Moreno after watching the same video. “I’d be scared to run into that.”

The hunters in the video took the disease-ridden deer and examined it being disgusted and curious of what they brought back. 

According to the CWD Alliance, deers contract the disease by prions which are misfolded proteins which characterize several fatal neurodegenerative diseases in humans and many other animals. 

The prions ‘infect’ the host animal by promoting conversion of normal cellular protein to the abnormal form.

CWD Alliance, the leading front-runner of the disease, runs rampant in the Midwest and few eastern states. 

According to the alliance, infected animals that survive the final stages of the terminal disease show obvious clinical signs of emaciation.

Deers will also exhibit behavioral changes including hyper-excitability, nervousness, excess salivation and drooling. Grinding of the teeth has been seen as well in some cases, as reported by the alliance.

The behavioral issues in deers, elk and moose are one of the many reasons why people are beginning to worry about the ever-so-present disease. But what if someone were to eat rancid venison meat?

According to USA Today, on March 13, 2005, a fire department in Oneida County, New York, unintentionally fed the meat of a deer that tested positive for chronic wasting disease to between 200 and 250 people during a venison feast ran by the department. 

The company did not know that the meat was from an infected deer. The meat later was tested in a lab and tested positive for the disease.

Though the people fed had “no significant changes in health conditions,” according to the Public Health journal, subjects studied reported that they ate less venison after the whole ordeal. 

According to the journal, of the 80 subjects studied, conditions contracted included vision loss, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, weight changes, hypertension and arthritis. 

“I’d be worried about my food being contaminated with disease,” said behavioral social sciences senior Kyle Langlais.

Though consuming rancid deer meat has no current side effects on humans, it is not recommended to eat, according to Ralph Garruto, a professor of biomedical and biological sciences of Binghamton University.

Garruto and his team check in with the victims who consumed the rancid veal meat every two years and plan to have another follow up in this spring. 

“It only takes one case,” said Garruto in the peer reviewed journal. 

Garruto explained symptoms dwindled with time, but there is a small possibility that someone might show signs of the disease.

According to CWD-Info, Utah is the closest state to California with deers that have contracted the disease.

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