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An infectious diseases expert has warned that chronic wasting disease, which is killing deer in the Upper Midwest and has been reported in at least 24 states, could infect humans in the near future.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told lawmakers recently that chronic wasting disease (CWD) should be treated as a public health issue, the Pioneer Press reported.
“It is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead,” Osterholm said. “It is possible that the number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events.”
As of January, CWD has been found in deer, elk or moose in at least 24 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. It is also found in farmed deer and elk.
CWD is caused by a malformed protein — or prion — that infects animals’ brains, according to the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Because of its symptoms, some people have called it “zombie deer disease.”
The CDC said symptoms include drastic weight loss, stumbling, lack of coordination, listlessness, drooling, lack of fear of people and aggression. An animal could carry the infection for more than a year and not show any signs of CWD.