The Zombie Deer Scare: Facts About the Brain Disease Affecting Deers and Other Animals

During the later part of 2016, civilian reports of zombie deers appearing in many US regions and other parts of the world, gave rise to notions that the zombie apocalypse is real and about to happen. Not a few, reported cases of seeing deers having zombie-like characteristics: emaciated, drooling, seemingly confused and lifeless, and in some instances showed aggressiveness.

As the number of zombie-deer cases rose, reports gathered as of January 2019 showed that the so-called free-roaming zombie-deers were turning up in 24 US regions, in 2 Canadian provinces, and in some parts of Norway, Finland and South Korea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, and the Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, released reports to shed light on the problem.

The agencies identified the disease as a degenerative neurological disorder called Chronic Wasting Disease (CDW) that afflicted not only deers, but also elks and moose that move around with relative freedom in the wilds.

About Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

In the late 60s, a captive deer died of a neurological disorder that led to the deterioration of brain functions. The affliction caused the deer to drool, lose weight, whilst acting disoriented and seemingly lifeless. The same affliction was detected in a free range deer in 1981, which neuropathologists later established as an illness that occurs, once a malformed brain protein destroys other normal neurons. The degenerative illness was officially called Chronic Wasting Disease, which until now can be misdiagnosed.

Some obscure probes on the malformed brain protein suggested that it is related to the protein behind the dreaded mad cow disease, as well as to human degenerative illnesses known as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. CWD slowly develops, taking more than a year before an infected animal shows symptoms brought on by the illness. Moreover, its symptoms are common to other animal disorders, making instant and accurate diagnosis of CWD difficult.

While deers, elks and/or moose roam freely in the wilds, or while in seclusion as captive animals, CWD has potential to spread and infect other animals. Transfer may be by means of physical contact, by way of contaminated water and food sources, or through feces. According to studies, captive deers have higher infection rates, to which nearly 4 out of 5 in a captive herd, later on develop CWD after contracting the disease.

Currently, CWD has been established to have occurred in more than 251 countries, including the US. Unfortunately, there are no existing vaccines, medicines or treatment available as cure for Chronic Wasting Disease.

Can CWD Affect Humans?

Although there are no known cases of CWD infection among humans, there is no guarantee that prions, the abnormally formed proteins in brain cells found not only in animals but also in humans, could also result to a neurodegenerative disorder like CWD. Concerns arise from the fact that mad cow prions had later caused the spread of the contagious cattle disease among humans.

Public health officials continue to recommend avoidance of eating venison from sickly-looking deers, to avoid human health risks of acquiring the CWD infectious prion