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'Zombie Deer Disease' Warning Issued By CDC

According to the CDC, as of last month, CWD in free-ranging deer, elk and moose has been reported in at least 24 states, including New York.
According to the CDC, as of last month, CWD in free-ranging deer, elk and moose has been reported in at least 24 states, including New York. Photo Credit: File

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning about “zombie deer disease” that impacts deer, elk and moose.

The CDC issued a warning about cases of Chronic Wasting Disease (also known as CWD or the “zombie deer disease”) after several cases cropped up throughout the country.

According to the CDC, as of last month, CWD in free-ranging deer, elk and moose has been reported in at least 24 states, including New York.

“‘Zombie Deer Disease,’ aka Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), has not been found in New York since 2005,” the CDC wrote in a statement. “New York State successfully stopped CWD from spreading in the state with a rapid response plan. DEC has vigorous controls and there has been no movement of CWD into New York with regulations prohibiting importations of any carriers.

“New York has a risk-based surveillance program to test deer statewide annually, as well as regulations restricting importation of infectious deer parts from known CWD states and provinces. State DEC and Department of Agriculture have further adopted a CWD Risk Minimization plan which prescribes a number of other actions to prevent CWD from entering the state” 

To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people. However, animal studies found that CWD poses a risk to some types of non-human primates, such as monkeys, that eat meat from CWD-infected animals or come in contact with brain or body fluids from infected wildlife

“These studies raise concerns that there may also be a risk to people,” the CDC determined. 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.”

It could take more than a year before an infected animal develops symptoms, which can include drastic weight loss (wasting), stumbling, listlessness and other neurologic symptoms. CWD can affect animals of all ages and some infected animals may die without ever developing the disease. CWD is fatal to animals and there are no treatments or vaccines.

The CDC said that additional studies are currently under way to identify if any similar prion diseases could be occurring at a higher rate in people who are at increased risk for contact with potentially CWD-infected meat. However, to date, there is no strong evidence for the occurrence of CWD in people, and it is not known if people can get infected with CWD prions.

“Because of the long time it takes before any symptoms of disease appear, scientists expect the study to take many years before they will determine what the risk, if any, of CWD is to people,” the organization stated. 

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