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Deadly ‘Zombie Deer’ Disease Transmits to Humans: Two Succumb to Fatal Infection

Deadly 'Zombie Deer' Disease Transmits to Humans

United States: A Disease named ‘Zombie Deer,’ which infects deer and is fatal, was found among humans recently and now has resulted in the death of two.

According to the reports, the two dead humans were hunters who consumed the infected deer, which was infected with chronic wasting disease, which is even fatal. At the University of Texas, a team of medical professionals documented the demise of a 72-year-old individual who exhibited sudden confusion and hostility.

Subsequently, the individual’s comrade, belonging to the same hunting lodge, passed away at an unspecified later time, displaying akin symptoms, as per the medical records. An examination following death revealed that the latter individual succumbed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, commonly known as prion disease, according to reports by Science Alert.

Considering the infrequency of prion diseases in humans, these two instances might suggest the transmission of chronic wasting disease – a condition never before observed in humans, as stated by the Center for Disease Control – from animals.

Prion illnesses, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), are rather ominous. Prions, being proteins with aberrant folding, fail to perform their intended functions adequately. The predicament arises from the fact that these misfolded proteins propagate the misfolding process to neighboring proteins, resulting in the dissemination of dysfunctional tissue, which cannot be arrested or remedied.

The dissemination of prions within brain tissue leads to symptoms resembling an accelerated form of dementia, ultimately leading to the demise of the afflicted individual. Given that CJD does not elicit any immune response, diagnosing it in a living patient is virtually impossible.

Serious concerns have been raised regarding chronic wasting disease, primarily affecting animals like deer, elk, and moose, with seemingly facile transmission between them. Scientists speculate that transmission occurs via bodily fluids such as blood or saliva, either through direct contact or environmental contamination, Science Alert mentioned.

Furthermore, research indicates that chronic wasting disease can infect mice genetically engineered with human genetic material in controlled laboratory conditions. Interestingly, humans appear relatively nonchalant about the associated risks. A study dating back to 2019 revealed that a considerable number of animals infected with the disease, estimated at 7,000 to 15,000, are consumed annually, with a projected annual increase of 20 percent.

The exact cause of the illnesses experienced by the two individuals described in the case study remains uncertain, and it is unclear whether they succumbed to chronic wasting disease or if another source was responsible. Prion diseases may arise spontaneously, albeit exceedingly rarely, according to current knowledge.

Visual Representation | Credits: Getty Images

The case study does not specify the origin of the two individuals, but the disease is prevalent across the North American continent in wild animal populations, spanning at least 32 states in the US and extending throughout Canada. Additionally, it has been detected in farmed deer, as per Science Alert.

Given the potential for zoonotic prion diseases and the long-anticipated transmission to humans, medical professionals assert that the situation demands vigilance and scrutiny.

“While causation remains unestablished, this cluster underscores the imperative of further exploration into the potential hazards associated with consuming deer infected with CWD and its repercussions on public health,” they assert.

“Occurrences of sporadic CJD clusters may coincide with regions harboring CWD-positive deer populations, suggesting a possible inter-species transmission of prions. Enhanced surveillance and additional research are indispensable for a better comprehension of this plausible correlation,” they added.

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