Wildlife officials are warning hunters about a brain-wasting disease affecting deer in 24 states, though no cases have been reported in humans to this date, USA Today reports.
Chronic wasting disease is a prion disease known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, and it affects the brains and spinal cords of deer by damaging normal prion proteins with abnormal prion proteins. Symptoms include dramatic weight loss, a lack of coordination, excessive thirst or urination, drooping ears, and infected deer lack a fear of humans or aggression. The disease can spread through contaminated fluids, including body fluids and drinking water, as well as tissue and food.
"Once CWD is established in an area, the risk can remain for a long time in the environment. The affected areas are likely to continue to expand," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote on its website. So far, 277 counties in 24 states have reported cases of CWD in deer, elk and other members of the deer family, known as cervids.
"It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption with contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead," Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research, told state legislators in February, according to Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
Osterholm compared CWD to “mad cow” disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, noting that “many in the public health and beef industry did not believe mad cow disease could infect people,” until researchers discovered the variant now known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which infected and killed over 150 people in the United Kingdom in the 1990’s.
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