Zombie deer disease or Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal neurological infection that typically affects deer, elk, and moose, has been reported across 31 U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Chronic Wasting Disease is a progressive disease that affects the brain, spinal cord, and other tissues of infected animals. It belongs to the class of infection called prion disease or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) that cause normal prion proteins, found on cell surfaces, to become abnormal, leading to brain clumps and brain damage.

Although no cases have yet been reported in humans, scientists have shared concerns that the infection with no cure may jump to humans, which they should be prepared for.

Dr Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, sees CWD as a "slow-moving disaster." Osterholm is an epidemiologist who researched on mad cow outbreak- a related prion disease in the U.K.

Dr. Cory Anderson, who did doctoral research with Osterholm on the pathways of CWD transmission, said, "The BSE [mad cow] outbreak in Britain provided an example of how, overnight, things can get crazy when a spillover event happens from, say, livestock to people. We're talking about the potential of something similar occurring. No one is saying that it's definitely going to happen, but it's important for people to be prepared."

"We're dealing with a disease that is invariably fatal, incurable, and highly contagious. Baked into the worry is that we don't have an effective easy way to eradicate it, neither from the animals it infects nor the environment it contaminates," Anderson said.

Certain studies suggest the possibility of CWD transmission to certain non-human primates, such as monkeys, through the consumption of contaminated meat, or contact with brain, or body fluids from infected deer or elk. These studies raise concerns that there is a potential risk to humans as well.

Signs of infection:

The animals may not show signs even years after they get infected. However, as CWD progresses, infected animals may face changes in appearance, including drastic weight loss, stumbling, lack of coordination, drooling, excessive thirst, or urination. They may also show changes in behavior, such as a lack of fear of people and listlessness.


The proteins that cause the infection are believed to be transmitted between animals through body fluids like feces, saliva, blood, or urine. They can either get transmitted through direct contact or indirectly through contaminated soil, food, or water. The infection-causing prions can remain in the environment even after an infected animal dies and can be transmitted from the environment.


If the infection jumps to humans, it could likely happen through the consumption of contaminated meat. Hence, it is best to avoid eating meat from deer and elk that look sick or are found dead. While handling meat or dressing the animal, it is recommended to wear latex gloves and minimize handling the organs of the animal, particularly the brain or spinal cord tissues.