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Zombie deer: the disease ravaging North America and worrying scientists

© Yoss Traore/Pexels

In the last days of the year 2023, a macabre discovery on the outskirts of Yellowstone Lake unfortunately brought to life the darkest apprehensions of specialists: the dreaded chronic wasting disease (CWD) has finally crossed the borders of the famous national park. This disease, initially detected in 1967 in Colorado, has since spread widely across the North American continent and beyond. An epidemic which, moreover, spread relatively silently in its early stages; it therefore spread considerably before attracting attention.

Today, it is rife in a staggering number of regions: no less than thirty-four American states, five Canadian provinces and four other nations are concerned. Faced with this alarming progression, the scientific community now fears that MCD will inexorably take hold in all states, leaving a worrying shadow over the future of northern wildlife. American.

What is MCD ?

L&amp ;#8217;the origin of this devastating condition lies in an abnormal cellular protein, a prion, which causes irreparable brain degeneration in deer. These pathogens, by multiplying in such a way, inflict irreversible neurological damage. Dr. Brandon Munk, veterinarian with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, highlights a particularly worrying aspect of this disease: “ Contaminated subjects can disseminate these infectious prions well before the start of the disease. #8217;appearance of clinical manifestations “, which considerably hampers prevention and containment strategies.

The formidable tenacity of these prions, capable of surviving in nature for years, long-term contaminates soils and vegetation, thus amplifying the risk of propagation. Affected deer show characteristic signs: hypersalivation, staggering gait and pronounced lethargy (see video below, sensitive souls refrain) hence the popular name “’ ;nbsp;zombie deer disease”.

The evolution of this pathology, which can take several years to kill its victim,< strong> allows extensive dissemination of prions before symptoms become obvious. This only further complicates the fight against MCD.

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An alarming spread

MCD is not just limited to deer. It also afflicts a host of deer: moose, elk or caribou. These species, inhabiting vast areas of capital ecological importance, are therefore particularly vulnerable. Yellowstone Park is known for its abundant biodiversity and the promiscuity of thousands of deer inexorably amplifies the risks of dissemination of MCD.

In Wyoming, practices of &# Artificial feeding of elk exacerbates this problem by promoting the transmission of the disease. These interventions, concentrating a multitude of individuals in cramped spaces, intensify interactions and, consequently, the risks of contagion. Thomas Roffe, veterinarian and former wildlife health officer at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, highlights the alarming ecological repercussions of this pathology. He states seriously: “ I warned that if we found ourselves faced with a disease that we could neither treat, nor cure, nor vaccinate, we would really be in deep trouble. And MCD is exactly that kind of disease“.

Zombie deer: the disease ravaging North America and worrying scientists

Map of the United States illustrating the spread of the MCD from before 2000 to today. © USGS National Wildlife Health Center

MCD is invariably lethal, lacking cure or immunization, threatens to irreparably disrupt affected ecosystems and animal populations.

Risk of transmission to humans

L’possible d’ transmission of MCD to humans constitutes one of the greatest concerns of the scientific community, exacerbated by the alarming evolution of the prions responsible for this affection. Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, issues a stark warning: “If transmission to humans happened now, we would be in freefall. There is no backup plan to manage or cope with the situation. It’is a catastrophe that is slowly looming “.

Recent studies suggest a worrying change in MCD prions, which appear to develop an increased ability to infiltrate human cells. Osterholm specifies that “the prions we observe today are much more capable of penetrating a human cell than they were before ”. This development raises the fear of a crossing of the inter-species barrier, sadly reminiscent of the scenario of the AIDS virus.

Nevertheless, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health seems to offer us some respite, demonstrating that the risk of transmission to humans still remains low. The researchers subjected human brain cells to high concentrations of prions without observing any contamination. Although these results provide some reassurance, the scientific community calls for vigilance and deeper research to better understand the potential transmission mechanisms and their repercussions on public health.

Despite these reassuring conclusions, suspicious cases have been reported, notably that of two individuals having consumed meat from a herd infected with MCD and having developed a severe form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Although these observations require further investigation to establish a causal link, they illustrate the need to maintain strong vigilance and continue research in order to prevent a possible health crisis.

  • DCD is a neurodegenerative disease affecting deer populations in North America.< /li>
  • Since its appearance in the 1960s, it has spread very widely throughout the American territories.
  • The scientific community fears potential transmission to humans.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116