Nevada Officials Battling ‘Zombie Deer’ at State Border

Henrietta Brewer
October 7, 2019

Zombie deer may sound like something in a bad B-movie, but wildlife regulators say they're real and officials are working to keep them out of Nevada.

The symptoms of chronic wasting disease reduce infected animals to zombie-like creatures: Stumbling, drooling, drastic weight loss. "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", the CDC concluded.

So far, officials have tested dead animals and have kept an eye on migrating elk and deer coming from Utah to look for signs of the sickness, Peregrine Wolff, a Nevada Department of Wildlife veterinarian, said.

The illness is transmitted by prions - protein particles that were linked to brain diseases in conjunction with angry cow illness in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob illness in humans. In May, Gov. Steve Sisolak passed legislation banning hunters from bringing deer, elk or moose carcasses into the state to prevent disease transmission.

Tyler Turnipseed, chief Nevada game warden, suggested in testimony about the proposed law that local populations could be infected if a hunter passing through the state from elsewhere dumps butchered waste.

CWD can incubate for more than a year before animals display the symptoms, so USA officials recommend that deer hunters test meat before consuming it.

The disease, which has an incubation period of at least 16 months and often longer, has been detected in eastern Utah, as well as in states including Colorado and Kansas.

Wildlife experts have warned that while still rare, the disease is virtually impossible to contain because the disease is neither viral nor bacterial and can remain in the environment for several years.

'It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when, ' she said. But some animal studies indicate that the disease poses a risk to various breeds of non-human primates, including monkeys, that eat meat from infected animals or come in contact with their bodily fluids, according to the agency. 'We know that we can't wrap Nevada in a bubble'.

The disease has also spread to South Korea through the importing of captive elk, and to reindeer in Norway, Finland and Sweden.

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