(Gray News) – A deadly disease that affects the brains and spinal cord of deer, elk and moose has manifested in at least 24 states, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Chronic debilitating disease (CDD) – often referred to as "zombie deer disease" or a variation of it – is part of the same family as the human form of "mad cow disease".
Symptoms of CWD in animals include: stumbling, lack of coordination, apathy, drooling, excessive thirst or excessive urination, droopy ears, aggression, lack of fear of humans, and significant weight loss.
The disease spreads directly through contact between animals and indirectly through contaminated water and food.
The CDC says "to date, there is no solid evidence of the presence of MDC in people;" but if MDC could spread to people, "it would most likely be by eating infected deer and elk."
No cases of MDC infection have been reported in humans.
Nevertheless, experimental studies "raise concern that the MDC may pose a risk to people and suggest that it is important to prevent human exposures to MDC".
The CDC recommends that hunters harvest wild deer and elk in areas where CWD has been reported "strongly considering" to have the animals tested for the disease before eating meat.
Another recommendation from the CDC: "Hunters who capture wild deer and elk in areas where CWD is declared should check wildlife and public health advice to determine if animal testing is recommended or required in a given State or region. "
The CDC also recommends that hunters do not shoot, handle or eat meat from animals with symptoms of CWD.
By January 2019, the disease had been reported in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota , Tennessee. , Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
According to the CDC, the overall prevalence of the disease in deer and elk roaming is relatively low, but adds that infection rates in areas where the disease is established may exceed 10%, or 1 in 10, and infection rates above 25 per cent have been reported in some areas.
"Infection rates in some deer in captivity can be much higher, with a rate of 79% (almost 4 out of 5) reported by at least one flock in captivity," says the CDC.
MDC does not appear to naturally infect cattle or other domestic animals.
CWD has also been reported in two Canadian provinces, as well as in reindeer and moose in Norway and Finland. A small number of imported cases have been reported in South Korea.
The disease was first identified in captive deer in the late 1960s in Colorado and wild deer in 1981.
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