By now you must have heard about the so-called ‘Zombie Deer Disease’ that is reportedly infecting deer and other wildlife in 24 states. And you might be thinking, as I did, that it’s not real. Irreverent references to ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘World War Z’ provide ample fodder for those who wish to poke fun at the latest trending news of the weird. And take away any credibility the condition might have ever had.
In case you’re one of those circumspect people who refuse to fall for internet hoaxes and think it’s all just a sick joke, you might want to think again.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are taking the rapidly spreading condition VERY seriously - in spite of the jokes and memes circulating on social media.
“Guys please stop listening to this. This is NOT what Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is. I've worked with deer for two years and we test for CED every time we had a dead deer. It is a disease that slowly deteriorates the brain and it kills the animal. It DOES NOT MAKE THEM A ZOMBIE”
Officially known as ‘Chronic Wasting Disease’ (or CWD) it “has afflicted free-ranging deer, elk and/or moose in 24 states and two Canadian provinces as of January,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told USA Today.
It has been dubbed the “Zombie Deer Disease” because of the devastating effects it has on the animals affected. But Chronic Wasting Disease is certainly no joke and the fact that many deer die before they show any symptoms leaves experts fearing the worst.
Although there have been no reported cases of CDW affecting humans, many experts believe it’s only a matter of time.
According to Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, "We are in an unknown territory situation."
Potentially hundreds for even thousands of humans have consumed venison infected with the disease and have not yet shown symptoms.
"It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption with contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead," he said. "It’s possible the number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events."
This isn’t the first time the human population has been in this situation.
“Osterholm compared the situation to ‘mad cow’ disease in the 1980s and 1990s in the United Kingdom, when there was public doubt that it could spread to humans.”
According to British news outlet the Independent, “156 people died in the U.K. in the 1990s because of ‘mad cow’ disease.”
“Nationwide, the overall occurrence of CWD in free-ranging deer and elk is relatively low. However, in several locations where the disease is established, infection rates may exceed 10 percent (1 in 10), and localized infection rates of more than 25 percent (1 in 4) have been reported.”
“The infection rates among some captive deer can be much higher, with a rate of 79% (nearly 4 in 5) reported from at least one captive herd.”
While experts admit that absolute prevention may not be possible, they have issued some guidelines to hunters.
“To be as safe as possible and decrease their potential risk of exposure to CWD, hunters should take the following steps when hunting in areas with CWD:
1. Do not shoot, handle or eat meat from deer and elk that look sick or are acting strangely or are found dead (road-kill).
2. When field-dressing a deer:
- Wear latex or rubber gloves when dressing the animal or handling the meat.
- Minimize how much you handle the organs of the animal, particularly the brain or spinal cord tissues.
- Do not use household knives or other kitchen utensils for field dressing.
3. Check state wildlife and public health guidance to see whether testing of animals is recommended or required. Recommendations vary by state, but information about testing is available from many state wildlife agencies.
4. Strongly consider having the deer or elk tested for CWD before you eat the meat.
5. If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, consider asking that your animal be processed individually to avoid mixing meat from multiple animals.
6. If your animal tests positive for CWD, do not eat meat from that animal.”
One man's encounter with a 'Zombie Deer.'
WARNING: Foul language.