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‘Zombie Deer’ Escaping from Colorado to Nevada

‘Zombie Deer’ is surprisingly similar to what it sounds like; the phrase is referring to chronic wasting disease, a highly contagious disease that affects deer and elk populations and causes lack of fear of humans, lethargy, and emaciation.

The disease is not bacterial or viral; instead, it is transmitted by prions similarly to how mad cow disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is spread. These diseases attack brain tissue and are incurable, hence the zombie name.

Currently, Colorado, Wyoming, and Kansas have all shows animals with the disease, and surrounding states fear that it will cross state lines. At the Utah state line, officials are already testing dead animals and monitoring migratory deer and elk for signs of the disease.

The CDC is concerned that chronic wasting disease may be spread to humans who unintentionally consume or come into contact with an animal who has the disease. The minimum time between exposure and the first symptoms is thought to be 16 months, according to a study posted to the Center for Food Security and Public Health.

Some animals may also be contagious well before symptoms begin to show. The longer than average incubation period makes the disease especially threatening.

In an attempt to prevent the disease from crossing state lines, Nevada officials have banned bringing the brain or spinal cord of any elk or deer across state lines, regardless of whether the animals appeared to have the disease or not.

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