Zombie Deer Disease

Nicole Bowlan, Editor

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There has recently been an overload of news regarding “Chronic Wasting Disease,” a disease affecting deer, elk, and other animals. Chronic Wasting Disease has been spreading rampantly throughout the United States and the “Zombie Deer Disease” can be found currently in all states bordering Oklahoma.

“Chronic Wasting Disease can affect animals of all ages. Some infected animals may die without ever developing the disease or showing symptoms of CWD. Chronic Wasting Disease is fatal to animals, and there are no treatments or vaccines,” stated The US Department of Health & Human Services. “It may take over a year before an infected animal develops symptoms, which can include drastic weight loss (wasting), stumbling, listlessness, and other neurologic symptoms.”

The origin of Chronic Wasting Disease is unknown. It was first recognized in captive mule deer in research facilities in Colorado in the 1960’s. It may have derived from Scrapie, a disease involving the central nervous system in sheep, but although this could be possible, it was never proven.

“CWD has been found in North American elk, red deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, white-tailed deer, Sika deer, reindeer and moose in parts of Canada and the United States,” stated WYFF news, “According to the CDC, 251 counties in 24 states in the U.S. had reported Chronic Wasting Disease in free-ranging deer as of January 2019.”

Concerns have been raised about the possibility of CWD affecting humans. Although popular press has made reports of humans being affected by CWD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that researchers and epidemiological studies need to be conducted and monitored in order to make a legitimate argument.

“Even though there have been no confirmed cases of infections in humans from CWD, the public should know that it is a possibility that needs to be explored,” stated Claudio Soto, a neurology researcher at McGovern Medical School, “These [CWD] prions are accumulating, and prions have a long incubation period–sometimes as long as 30 to 40 years in humans.”

There have also been many questions by concerned North Americans regarding the dangers of eating deer meat while CWD is on the rise. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reviewed clinical records and pathology studies of three cases of sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in 1997-98 in young adults who had eaten venison (deer meat).

“The review failed to find a causal link to CWD,” CDC stated. “Surveillance for human prion diseases, particularly in areas where CWD has been detected, remains important to effectively monitor the possible transmission of CWD to humans.”

In Oklahoma, Chronic Wasting Disease has not been detected…yet. The disease has been found in all surrounding states, such as Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri. Many efforts have been made by Oklahoma wildlife departments to monitor this disease.

“ODWC takes disease issues very seriously because of the potential effects to the state’s rich hunting traditions, human health concerns, the risk to natural resources and the $680 million dollar impact hunting has on our state’s economy annually,” stated the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “ODWC’s primary objective is to minimize the risk to Oklahoma’s wild deer, elk, and other susceptible cervids within our borders.”

Although these “zombie deer” may seem like a plot out of The Walking Dead, Chronic Wasting Disease does pose a serious threat to multiple aspects of the economy. Next time you go out hunting with your family, be aware that there might be a zombie deer in the forest somewhere!