Chronic wasting disease (CWD), sometimes known as “zombie deer disease” because of how it makes the ruminant animals look in its final stages. CWD causes infected animals to stumble through the forest, sometimes drooling and becoming aggressive towards humans they once feared. They lose weight. They’re listless.
Right now, CWD appears limited to deer, moose, and elk. But University of Minnesota researchers warned local lawmakers this week that we should be taking action now to prevent the potential spread to humans. Michael Osterholm, director of the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention, testified that:
“It is my best professional judgment based on my public health experience and the risk of BSE transmission to humans in the 1980s and 1990s and my extensive review and evaluation of laboratory research studies … that 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 number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events.”
The 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.”
It can cause disorientation, abnormal behavior, and ultimately death. “Infected animals can live for at least 16 months before dying, and their blood, tissues, and fecal material can remain a source of new infections for years after death,” said the University of Minnesota on its website.
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