Cases of chronic wasting disease, also known as “zombie deer disease,” have been occurring throughout North America. The disease targets ruminants and their related species including deer, reindeer, elk, and moose. The disease has been reported in at least 35 of the 105 Kansas counties (Kan., Missouri, Neb., and CO.)
Along with Wyoming and Colorado, Kansas is currently seeing one of the heaviest influxes of the infected “zombie” deer.
Chronic wasting disease, identified by scientists in 1967, is a neurological disease attacking the animals’ brains and nervous systems, particularly through the spinal cord. Symptoms of its victims include salivating, a lack of fear toward humans, and significant weight loss. The chronic wasting disease which affects deer and its relatives, while rare, is always fatal.
There is a concern as to the unknown potential and limitations of the disease. Specifically, some are worried that the consumption of contaminated meat or exposure to infected animals may have health consequences to humans, though no such incidents have been documented as yet.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife also notes the disease may take a little over a year to produce symptoms in its victims. Scientists’ understanding of the spreading of the contagious disease is not well-developed, but it is believed to be transmitted via bodily fluids or the intaking of contaminated water.
One of the reasons for this is that diseases unique to other species have been referred to as “zombie” disorders, and, while the symptoms of these various diseases may seem similar, their causes are quite different.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cautioned hunters to check their venison for infection and to refrain from consuming meat that is assumed to be contaminated.