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Understanding Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer: What You Need to Know About CWD Cases

Chronic wasting disease (CWD), also known as “zombie deer disease,” is a fatal neurologic disease that affects free-ranging deer, elk, and moose, and has been detected in over 30 states in the US, as well as in Canada and some Nordic European countries. The disease was first discovered in Colorado in 1967 and has since spread widely. Although there have been no reported infections in humans, research suggests that the disease is more transmissible to humans from animals than previously thought. The disease may have an incubation period of over a year and spreads through contact with contaminated body fluids and tissues, as well as through the environment. Symptoms of CWD include drastic weight loss, stumbling, lack of coordination, listlessness, drooling, and excessive thirst or urination.

Affected animals are sometimes referred to as “zombie deer” due to the neurological signs of the disease. The infection causes damage to normal prion proteins in the body, leading to brain damage and the development of other prion diseases. CWD has also been reported in reindeer and moose in Nordic European countries, and a few imported cases have been reported in South Korea.

In July 2022, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection ordered the killing of over 300 deer at Maple Hill Farms after CWD was discovered at the facility a year prior. Scientists and wildlife officials continue to monitor and research CWD in order to understand and prevent its spread and to protect both animal and human populations from the disease.

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