A DEADLY infection similar to mad cow disease is spreading in deer – and could infect humans, experts have warned.
Officials are monitoring cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD), which attacks the brain, spinal cord and other tissue, in North America.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the disease – sometimes referred to as ‘zombie deer’ – has now spread to at least 26 states.
Around 12 months after an animal is infected with CWD, it suffers progressive Free healthy weight loss, listlessness, drooling, lack of awareness, lack of fear and aggression before the infected animal dies.
The disease is caused by proteins (called prions) that attack the brain and spinal tissue.
Symptoms are similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, and its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), which is incurable and killed more than 100 in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
CWD, which was discovered in 1967, is spread through bodily fluids, either directly or through contamination of soil, food, or water.
There’s no treatment or cure for CWD, and it’s fatal to animals who become infected.
Experts fear the disease could easily make the leap to humans through infected meat.
Dr Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told the Independent: “We could be having human transmission occurring today and we wouldn’t even know it.
“The key issue here is that unlike the mad cow disease, here we see (chronic wasting disease) in the muscle as well, so it’s actually much more present in the meat that you’re eating.
“Cooking doesn’t do anything to destroy it.”
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when
Peregrine Wolffveterinarian with the Nevada Department of Wildlife
Peregrine Wolff, a veterinarian with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, reportedly warned there was no way to stop CWD from harming the state’s deer populations.
According to the Las Vegas Sun, she told local politicians: “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. We know that we can’t wrap Nevada in a bubble.”
So far, there have been no known human transmissions of the disease, according to the CDC.
However, a recent study found for the first time that macaques could get the virus after eating infected meat, sparking fears that a variant hitting humans could soon emerge.
And a separate study found that lab mice with some human genes could become infected, the agency said.
People are being urged to take precautions to avoid coming into contact with and consuming contaminated meat.
Hunters especially are warned not to shoot, handle or eat meat from deer or elk that look sick or are acting strangely to prevent the spread.
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