Chronic wasting disease (CWD), also known as the zombie disease, is very likely headed to humans. Experts are warning that hunters and anyone who handles or consumes deer are at risk of developing CWD. Symptoms of the zombie disease include lack of coordination, stumbling, drastic weight loss, drooling, listlessness, aggression, drooping ears, lack of fear of people, and excessive thirst and urination.
CWD belongs to the prion class of diseases. Prion diseases are incurable; there is no known treatment or vaccine that can halt or reverse CWD. In fact, anyone who contracts CWD will eventually die from the disease, although they’re likely to have a long, painful decline first.
Huffington Post reported that CWD in deer has already spread to at least 24 states. Elk, reindeer, moose, and sika deer have also been infected with CWD. Lab testing has shown that this particular prion disease is spreadable to various species carrying human genes. In other words, it’s very probable that humans will soon face this threat.
Per the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, infectious diseases expert Michael Osterholm is concerned enough about the risk to humans that he recently spoke to Minnesota lawmakers about it. He not only confirmed the high likelihood of CWD jumping to humans but also pointed out how widespread human cases of this prion disease could become.
“It is possible that [the] number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events.”
The CDC has spent more than 20 years issuing warnings about the risk of prion diseases spreading to humans. No known cases of human CWD have been discovered yet, but several people have died from other prion diseases. For example, People covered the recent death of 33-year-old Tony Gibson.
I've had the honor of following this family's story. Tony Gibson was diagnosed with a human form of mad cow disease.
He quickly lost his memory and motor skills. He died last month. I got to tell his story.https://t.co/8XcF50KHBT
— CiCi Adams???? (@CiCiAdams_) February 8, 2019
Gibson, a father of four, was one of an estimated 320 Americans to contract Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in 2018. CJD, better known as the human version of mad cow disease, is always fatal. Even worse, the abnormal prions associated with CJD are immune to sterilization, making it even harder to avoid contamination.
Here's where Chronic Wasting Disease, popularly called Zombie Deer Disease, has been reported in the U.S. Prion diseases like CWD have made the jump from animals to humans before. @weatherchannel https://t.co/jd23vTDSQ9 pic.twitter.com/iUf6xgRdph
— Ron Brackett (@rontimes) February 12, 2019
Another recent example of CJD occurred in a Rochester, New York, man who ate squirrel brains. Per the Miami Herald, the unnamed hunter died five months after his diagnosis. Scientists and doctors have been warning people since 1997 not to eat squirrel brains. At least 12 known cases of CJD have been linked to this particular food choice.
Symptoms of CWD can take years to develop, so it’s possible that humans have already unknowingly contracted the so-called zombie prion disease. Once symptoms appear, infected individuals will suffer until their unavoidable early death. Transmission methods are currently believed to include any direct or indirect contact with infected blood, urine, saliva, or feces.
— MedPage Today (@medpagetoday) February 14, 2019
If you’re a hunter, you need to be especially careful about how you handle and eat deer, along with any other potentially infected animals. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture has issued some tips to help minimize the risk of exposure, including always wearing latex or rubber gloves when touching or cutting deer.
You should also steer clear of contact with the animal’s spinal cord, lymph nodes, brain, and spleen. It’s been suggested that using a cleaning solution that’s half-bleach, half-water may be a good way to avoid accidental contamination from utensils and knives. However, don’t forget that the prions that cause the zombie disease cannot be sterilized; therefore, touching or eating deer still puts you at risk of developing CWD.