CSU at Center of Zombie Deer Disease
There is a mysterious disease among the deer population in North America that has had scientists at Colorado State University concerned that it could evolve into a huge health concern for humans. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), or "zombie deer disease" was first discovered in 1967 in Fort Collins and has since spread to herds across the country, in Canada, South Korea, and Norway, according to NPR.
The research is focused on "misfolded proteins" called prions that cause the healthy proteins to also misfold. A big concern for scientists is that while this prion disease only harms certain species, they "can evolve to overcome those limitations". In other words, they could grow beyond their ability to infect just deer and move on to other animals and humans.
These prions are transmitted, according to the New York Times, through infected deer or cadavers, as the plants are coated with the prions and can be dormant for years or decades. An infected animal can live for two years before showing any symptoms of CWD. Symptoms that include a vacant stare, thick saliva, drooping heads and exposed rib cages.
The disease has been known for 50 years and to date there have been no reported human illnesses. Also, there is no evidence that infected meat has ever harmed people. However, Mark Zabel, associate director at CSU's Prion Research Center, found that macaque monkeys contracted the disease after eating the prion infected meat. Along with CSU's research, Matt Dunfee, head of the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance in Fort Collins, says that while there is a barrier between humans and CWD, he also says, "that barrier might not be quite as robust as we once thought.", NPR reported.
While the research continues at CSU, Dr. Mark D. Zabel-an immunologist at CSU, is developing a plan to burn plots of National Park Service land both here in Colorado and in Arkansas to help stave off the advancement of this disease.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife are asking hunters to test their kills for CWD so that they can improve their knowledge of infection rates, according to their website.