ST. PAUL, Minn. — Experts are warning that a deadly disease affecting deer in 24 states — including Arkansas — and two Canadian provinces could spread to humans.
Last week, experts from the University of Minnesota told lawmakers at the Minnesota State Capitol about the dangers of chronic wasting disease, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
While there have not been cases of the disease reported in humans, Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told lawmakers human cases will likely be “documented in the years ahead.”
CWD was first discovered in Arkansas in February 2016. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says later testing determined that CWD was likely in the state for decades before being detected. The AGFC has sampled and screened over 10,000 deer and elk from around the state. The AGFC has a 16-county management zone for the disease, but a deer recently tested positive for the disease in Scott County, outside of the zone.
Chronic wasting disease was first identified in captive deer in the late 1960s in Colorado and in wild deer in 1981, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include drooling, stumbling, lack of coordination, lack of fear of people, aggression and listlessness — which explains the “zombie” deer disease nickname.
The disease is considered a prion disease. Prion diseases are a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals, according to the CDC.
“If Stephen King could write an infectious disease novel, he would write about prions like this,” Osterholm told lawmakers.
In October 2018, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission implemented a new rule for 2018-2019 prohibiting the importation of whole deer carcasses and restricting importation of specific carcass parts from anywhere outside of North Carolina in an effort to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease.
In the United States, the disease has been detected in deer in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended that it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.
For more information on chronic wasting disease, click here.