First Human Deaths Linked to "Zombie Deer Disease" Reported in the U.S.

Alarming reports of first two human deaths potentially linked to "zombie deer disease" in the US, highlighting urgent need for further research on CWD transmission risks.

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Nitish Verma
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First Human Deaths Linked to "Zombie Deer Disease" Reported in the U.S.

First Human Deaths Linked to "Zombie Deer Disease" Reported in the U.S.

In an alarming development, researchers have reported the first two human deaths potentially linked to chronic wasting disease (CWD), also known as "zombie deer disease," in the United States. The fatal cases involve two hunters who consumed meat from infected deer before developing a rare neurological condition called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and dying soon afterward.

The first death was of a 72-year-old man in 2022 who had a history of eating meat from a deer population known to be infected with CWD. His friend, who had also eaten deer meat from the same population, later died of CJD within a month of developing symptoms. While the researchers acknowledged that causality remains unproven, the findings suggest a possible novel transmission of CWD from animals to humans.

Why this matters: The potential link between CWD and human deaths raises serious public health concerns about consuming meat from infected deer populations. This development highlights the need for further research into the risks of CWD transmission to humans and emphasizes the importance of monitoring the spread of the disease in wild deer, elk, and moose populations across North America.

CWD is a highly contagious and fatal prion disease that affects cervids, causing symptoms such as weight loss, difficulty walking, aggression, and lack of fear towards humans in infected animals. The disease has been reported in free-ranging deer, elk, and moose in 32 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. Transmission can occur through contact with saliva, blood, urine, or antler flesh, and prions can remain in the environment for a long time.

Prion diseases, including CJD, can have long incubation periods but progress rapidly once symptoms start to present themselves and are always fatal. While there is no strong evidence that prions found in CWD can infect humans, some experimental studies have suggested that the disease may pose a risk. "It's probable that human cases of CWD will be documented in the years ahead," warned Dr. Michael Osterholm, an expert on infectious diseases.

The report, which details the two hunter deaths, emphasizes the need for further investigation into the potential risks of consuming CWD-infected deer and its implications for public health. As of now, there is no effective treatment or vaccine for CWD, and experts stress the importance of continued surveillance and research efforts to better understand and mitigate the risks posed by this emerging threat.

Key Takeaways

  • 2 hunters died of rare Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease after eating CWD-infected deer meat.
  • CWD, known as "zombie deer disease," is a fatal prion disease affecting cervids in 32 U.S. states.
  • Transmission can occur through contact with infected bodily fluids, and prions persist in the environment.
  • Experts warn of potential for more human CWD cases, as there is no treatment or vaccine for the disease.
  • Further research is needed to understand the risks of consuming CWD-infected meat and mitigate the threat.