The U.S. and Canadian deer are dying. At least 22 states and some Canadian regions are affected by a neurological disease, chronic cachexia, which transforms moose and deer into a zombie species.
Chronic cachexia causes deer to show decay, with a crouching head, white facial expression, gnashing of teeth, loss of appetite, drooping ears, and walking in repetitive patterns. Eventually, they develop weight loss and die.
But could humans be affected by "zombie deer disease"?
After all, this hypothesis is not so far-fetched, as Canadian scientists have shown that transmission is possible in primates.
Although no human cases have been reported since its discovery in 1967, a team of Canadian researchers have expressed concern that chronic cachexia, known as the zombie deer disease, can be transmitted to humans.
Scientists found that, of a group of five monkeys that were fed with infected deer meat, three contracted the disease.
How? Let’s be more specific.
Evolved infectious agents
Infectious agents that cause chronic cachexia, called prions, do not pass easily between animals of different species. However, what is certain is that these proteins can ‘evolve’ to infect other species.
A prion enters a healthy organism through abnormal proteins. When this happens, it modifies the form of the same type of protein with which it entered the new organism, modifying it and converting it into a prion.
This infection could spread in humans in a similar way to mad cow disease.
"We have reason to suspect that chronic cachexia could be transmitted to humans," said Colorado State University director Mark Zabel, for the Live Science platform. The disease may still be evolving, and it may only be a matter of time before a prion evolves into a deer that is capable of infecting a human being.
Additionally, some studies have even shown that prions can even be artificially modified to give rise to prions that cause the disease.
Can you eat deer meat?
The Prion Research Center at Colorado State University recommends that, in areas where cases of chronic deer cachexia have been found, hunters seriously reconsider testing meat.
In addition, the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) also recommended that hunters should not shoot or handle deer or moose meat that looks sick or acts strangely.
Although it is important to note that even deer that looks healthy may have the disease, since it can take years for symptoms to appear.