According to the CDC, chronic wasting was reported in 24 deer, elk and moose in 24 states. The disease is not new, but its nickname is: you can now read sensational titles on the "zombie deer".
What is the MDC?
Chronic wasting is a prion disease that affects the brain and the nervous system of the deer. It's a bit like a version of BSE by deer, known in the 1990s as "mad cow disease."
The cows were not angry and the deer were not zombies: over time, the disease tripped, drooled and behaved in an unusual way (for example, do not run away from predators).
In the early stages of the disease (which may take years), there may be no symptoms. In advanced stages, the deer may appear emaciated – that's the "waste".
Which animals have the disease and where are they?
The disease of chronic wasting has been observed in many animals of the deer family, including white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk / elk, caribou and moose.
In the United States, the disease is prevalent in Wyoming and several neighboring states, with pockets of MDC in other states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico. The CDC has a list of 251 counties in 24 states where the disease has been reported.
Are "zombie" deer dangerous for humans?
Probably yes, if you eat them. So far, no one has caught MDC from a deer, but experts say it will happen.
Prion diseases are not transmitted by a germ, such as a virus or bacteria, but by a strange type of protein. Cooking does not destroy this protein, and we know that in very rare cases, BSE can be transmitted by cows. Studies suggest that MDC could be transmitted from deer to monkey macaque.
In states where CWD is a concern, hunters are encouraged to take certain safety measures, including:
- Do not eat deer meat (or related animals) that appears emaciated or has other symptoms of the disease, such as a disoriented appearance or a stumble.
- Get your deer tested through the local gambling commission.
- Wear gloves when you kill deer and avoid manipulating the brain or other parts of the body other than muscle flesh. Wyoming's recommendations for handling deer meat can be found here.