Tech"Zombie disease". An impending threat to humans from Yellowstone's wildlife

"Zombie disease". An impending threat to humans from Yellowstone's wildlife

Deer - illustrative picture
Deer - illustrative picture
Images source: © Wikimedia Commons | Luc Viatour

10:02 AM EST, December 30, 2023

Although "zombie disease" may sound like a concept from a horror movie, it is a real threat that has recently been spreading in Yellowstone National Park. Local scientists are closely monitoring the disease as it has affected hundreds of animals, primarily deer, elk, reindeer, and mule deer.

Chronic wasting disease is caused by prions' abnormal proteins in nerve cells. These prions induce changes in the brains of their hosts, causing the animals to drool and become inactive, hence the nickname "zombie disease." Once an animal contracts CWD, there's no cure for it.

Curb Earth highlights that, although there have been no reported cases of chronic wasting disease in humans so far, the risk of humans contracting CWD is growing. This could present a significant problem not only for the USA but also for communities worldwide.

- The case of a dead mule deer in Yellowstone infected with CWD has drawn more attention to the disease than ever before - and that, ironically, is a good thing. CWD is a disease with significant ecological impacts. Still, its potential health effects are difficult to measure," says Dr. Thomas Roffe, a veterinarian and former head of animal health at Fish & Wildlife Service.

The infection rates of CWD are higher where large numbers of animals congregate. This implies that the disease poses a significant threat to places like national parks, where herd animals gather in large groups.

Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US suggest that one way to limit the spread of CWD is by avoiding the consumption of meat from hunted and infected animals - an especially crucial suggestion to hunters. Though the most significant outbreak of CWD is currently in the USA, reports of infections have also emerged from Northern Europe.

Scientists have not dismissed the possibility of transmitting the disease to other species, including humans. However, this depends on the spread of CWD and mutations in prions. Studies by the WHO have previously confirmed that prion diseases can be transmitted to humans, making identifying CWD in humans seem highly probable.

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