Zombie Disease Appears in 24 States

Illustration of woman holding an ice-cream cone

You may not have heard of it, but since January of 2019, the CDC reports that at least 251 counties within 24 states across North America have confirmed incidences of a zombie-like disease called chronic wasting disease (CWD).  The United States Geological Survey published a live map of active cases appearing throughout the region.

The CDC identifies chronic wasting disease as a ‘prion disease,’ in that it can affect both humans and animals. Prion diseases are rapidly progressive illnesses that have a high rate of fatality due to the neurodegenerative properties associated with its infection. As the disease proliferates within the infected host, essential cellular proteins are altered within the host’s brain. Yup you heard me right- brain.

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States include: Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The two Canadian provinces affected are Alberta and Saskatchewan

Chronic wasting disease has only ever been reported as actively infected in animals and it affects primarily deer, as well as elk, reindeer, and moose. The disease symptoms are drastic, which has popularized it to be coined as the ‘zombie disease.’

Symptoms include extreme weight loss, and neurological symptoms that include lack of coordination, stumbling, drooling, and most notably- aggressive behavior. Scientists believe the disease is transmitted via saliva, feces, blood, and urine between the infected entity and the possible host, according to the CDC. That includes humans.

The Walking Dead fans know where this is going…

Not much is known about the etymology of the disease, which has led the CDC to urge at risk populations throughout the nation, to avoid the killing and consummation of species within the family of deers, especially in affected regions. Game hunters are at the highest risk for coming in contact with infected animals.

The U.S. Department of the Interior released a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services that revealed approximately 101.6 million Americans are engaged in outdoor activities like hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. Total expenditures from hunting alone are recorded to be at least 25.6 billion dollars since 2017.

I don’t know about you, but if you have ever seen a zombie movie, it only takes one person to get infected before the state of a nation becomes post-apocalyptic.

States with confirmed cases of CWD have scrambled to initiate emergency regulations to prevent the further spread of the disease within their states. A prime example: in the state of Minnesota (MN), The House of Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division convened in the MN House, per request of state officials, to hear experts speak on the subject of CWD just last week. The shared messages by experts depicts a nation-wide theme of worry.

“CWD represents a significant threat to our wild and farm population,” Trevor Ames, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota said on the Minnesota House floor. “There are some experimental studies that have shown transmission of CWD prions to primates and human cell lines,” Ames said, “which raises concerns…”

States affected by the outbreak of CWD in the past few months are urging the public to follow the guidelines and best management practices provided by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. These regulatory practices can be used by both hunters and non-hunters, to reduce state-wide transmission of CWD.

All zombie jokes aside, the further this disease spreads, the closer our nation gets to being on the cusp of announcing a national emergency. If any human is to contrive this disease from an animal, we will enter a new era of understanding CWD and prion diseases.

Quite a scary thought if you ask me.