Perilous virus is spreading; If it passes to humans, we're in for a "zombie" scenario

Scientists have warned that a disease that turns deer into "zombies" could spread to humans, after a sharp rise in the number of cases across the United States.

Source: Jutarnji list
Shutterstock/Salov Evgeniy
Shutterstock/Salov Evgeniy

As the British "Telegraph" writes, transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) or "chronic wasting disease" (CWD) affects the brain of the infected animal and causes symptoms such as lethargy, nervousness, increased drooling and grinding of teeth with a "blank look" like a zombie.

Animals that are infected also have difficulty walking, lose weight and are not afraid of human contact.

According to information from the US Geological Institute, the disease has so far spread to 32 US states and four Canadian provinces.

In Kansas, Wisconsin and Nebraska, more than 40 counties have reported cases of the infection. It has also been found in approximately 800 deer throughout Wyoming.

"It is a disease that is inevitably fatal, incurable and highly contagious. The main problem is that we do not have an effective and simple way to eradicate it, in the animals it infects or in the environment it becomes contaminated," warned Cory Anderson, one of the leaders of the CWD program at University of Minnesota.

Michael Osterholm, an American epidemiologist who has warned of the risks of mad cow disease to humans, believes the spread of the disease across the US could become a "catastrophe" with the potential to spread beyond the animal kingdom.

In 2019, he also warned that laboratory research shows the likelihood of transmission to humans if contaminated meat is eaten.

"It is possible that the number of cases in humans will be significant and will not be isolated events," he added. The disease has been compared to mad cow disease because it is also spread by pathogenic proteins called prions and causes a range of dementia-like symptoms.

"If Stephen King could write a novel about infectious diseases, he would write about prions in this way," Osterholm said. Prion diseases belong to a family of rare brain diseases that affect humans and animals, including mad cow disease in cattle and a variant of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) in humans.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expressed concern that spongiform encephalopathy may also pose a risk to humans, but so far they have not seen any cases of transmission of the infection.


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