Jeannine Fleegle [wildlife biologist] reached into a black garbage bag, pulled out a severed deer head, and placed it on a folding table smeared with blood and fur.
The formal name of the ailment is chronic wasting disease, or CWD. But its effects on deer, elk and other cervids — weight loss, stumbling, listlessness and certain death — have inspired a creepier colloquial name: zombie deer disease.
More than half a century after it was first detected, the disease is now spreading rapidly. … Now, as it strikes animals across a widening territory, concern is growing among scientists and public health officials that the disease might leap to humans.
CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, another of which did jump species: mad cow disease. In humans, mad cow disease is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and it has killed more than 220 people worldwide since the 1990s. Some experts say that in a nation with an estimated 10 million deer hunters harvesting 6 million deer a year and eating many of them, it may be just a matter of time before chronic wasting makes its way to us.
Both CWD and mad cow are thought to be caused by proteins that malfunction and misfold, called prions. There is no known cure or treatment for prion diseases.
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