26 Dec, 2023 @ 11:15
1 min read

Will this be the next pandemic? Scientists sound the alarm over ‘zombie deer’ virus after detecting the disease in multiple countries

Will this be the next pandemic? Scientists sound the alarm over ‘zombie deer’ virus after detecting the disease in multiple countries
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

SCIENTISTS have issued a stark warning that a virus called ‘zombie deer disease’ could spread to humans after a case was detected in the United States last month.

This deadly brain virus leaves animals confused, drooling, and unafraid of humans.

The alarm has been raised after a deer carcass tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

In recent years, the virus has spread to more than 31 U.S. states, two Canadian provinces and even South Korea, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“The outbreak of BSE (mad cow) disease in Britain provided an example of how overnight, things can become chaotic when a contagion event occurs, for example, from cattle to people,” Cory Anderson, co-director of the programme at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told The Guardian.

Anderson pointed out that there is a ‘possibility of something similar happening’.

“No one is saying this is going to happen definitively, but it’s important that people are prepared,” he said, warning that the disease is ‘invariably deadly, incurable and highly contagious.’

“The concern is that we don’t have an easy and effective way to eradicate it, either from the animals it infects or from the environment it pollutes,” he said.

While the U.S. National Park Service said there is currently no evidence that chronic wasting disease can infect humans or domestic animals, it does not recommend consuming tissues from infected animals.

Chronic wasting disease is a prion-borne disease that causes mad cow disease that can cause weight loss, loss of coordination, and other potentially fatal neurological symptoms in deer and related species.

Typical tests of live and dead animals involve taking samples of tissue from the nervous system, either from the central nervous system, such as the spinal cord, or from peripheral systems, such as retropharyngeal lymph nodes and tonsils.

Mark Zabel, director of the Prion Research Centre at Colorado State University, said a few years ago that there was reason to suspect that the disease might be evolving:

“It could be a matter of time before a prion evolves and is able to infect a human,” he predicted.

“Since 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that it is important to prevent agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain,” Zabel added.

Yellowstone park officials said they are working to monitor deer and other park animals, both living and dead, to better assess how widespread chronic wasting disease has spread through the national park.

Alex Trelinski

Alex worked for 30 years for the BBC as a presenter, producer and manager. He covered a variety of areas specialising in sport, news and politics. After moving to the Costa Blanca over a decade ago, he edited a newspaper for 5 years and worked on local radio.

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