Ever since people became aware of the rise in cases of “zombie” deer across the U.S., there has been the fear of this devastating disease crossing from deer to humans who consume the meat of this animal. However, a new study actually suggests that this is unlikely.
According to USA Today, a group of people unintentionally ate infected deer meat in 2005 and researchers have been following them ever since. On March 13, 2005, approximately 200-250 people consumed venison that later tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), commonly referred to as “zombie” deer disease. The meat was consumed when a fire company in Oneida County, New York, unintentionally fed these people the infected meat. One of the deer later tested positive for chronic wasting disease.
When the Oneida County Health Department became aware of the incident, a study was immediately undertaken to observe the people who had consumed the tainted meat. Of those who ate the deer meat, 81 people agreed to the surveillance. Over the following years, the Oneida County Health Department, along with the State University of New York-Binghamton, undertook the observation study into what effects humans might encounter after consuming meat that tested positive for CWD.
“To this day, this incident remains the only known large-scale point-source exposure to a CWD infected deer,” the study said.
And, the news is pretty good so far.
Over the six-year period, none of the participants showed any signs of having contracted CWD. However, it was noted that many of the participants noted a decrease in the consumption of venison.
However, the study will continue as it is known that this disease can take decades to appear.
“Prion diseases can incubate for multiple decades before the manifestation of clinical symptoms,” the study noted.
“Thus, continued surveillance of this exposed study population represents a unique opportunity to assess the risk of CWD transmission to humans.”
Researcher Ralph Garruto said that the participants will continue to be monitored. The next check-in will occur in spring.
So, what is this disease?
While people are calling it “zombie” deer disease, it is actually called chronic wasting disease. This disease attacks the brain and creates a swiss cheese effect that leads to symptoms similar to dementia. It usually leads to death.
People have also linked this disease to mad cow disease and both are very similar, which is why many people are concerned that the disease will spread to humans.
As Vox points out, the reason why this disease is using the term “zombie” is that it is caused by a pathogen that exists, but is not alive. Chronic wasting disease is a result of prions, which are pathogenic proteins which aren’t actually alive and, therefore, can’t be killed.
As yet, there have been no reported cases of CWD crossing from deer to humans. However, the CDC advises caution when hunting and consuming deer meat in areas where cases of infected deer have been reported.