Chronic wasting disease, known as the “zombie deer disease,” is an illness that infects the brain, spine and tissue of deer, elk and moose.
According to the CDC, the disease gets its start infecting prion proteins in the brain, and is passed through contact with contaminated body fluids and tissue.
Afflicted animals show symptoms such as emaciation from forgetting to eat, excessive drooling and stumbling.
There are no treatments or vaccines for CWD, and the disease is fatal.
As of January 2019, CWD in free-ranging deer, elk and/or moose has been reported in at least 24 states in the continental United States, including three counties in North Dakota (Grant, Divide, Sioux), as well as two provinces in Canada.
In addition, CWD has been reported in reindeer and moose in Norway and Finland, and a small number of imported cases have been reported in South Korea.
The CDC has raised the alarm about the potential for CWD to infect humans most notably since July 2017, when a study found monkeys who ate infected deer meat contracted the disease.
NBC News reported many experts are worried that the disease could transfer to humans through consumption of deer meat. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told state lawmakers this past week that he’s concerned that might happen soon.
“It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption with contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead,” he told the Minnesota legislature last week. “It’s possible the number of human cases will be substantial, and will not be isolated events.”
There is no known case at this time of CWD in a person.
However, the CDC has warned the public to test venison or elk meat for CWD before eating it from areas with documented infections.