Posted Jun 14, 2019
Washington Post – Jeannine Fleegle reached into a black garbage bag, pulled out a severed deer head, and placed it on a folding table smeared with blood and fur.
“This is no one’s favorite time of year,” Fleegle said, picking up a scalpel.
It was a chilly morning, and Fleegle, a wildlife biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, was with a half-dozen other state scientists in a garage in the small town of Bolivar.
Covered in head-to-toe white Tyvek suits, they were surgically extracting hundreds of brain stem samples from deer killed by hunters during the state’s rifle season.
The samples would be analyzed for signs of a deadly pathogen.
The formal name of the ailment is chronic wasting disease, or CWD.
But its effects on deer, elk and other cervids – weight loss, stumbling, listlessness and certain death – have inspired a creepier colloquial name: Zombie deer disease.
More than half a century after it was first detected, the disease is now spreading rapidly.
Last winter, Tennessee became the latest of 24 states to report CWD infections, which have also been found in two Canadian provinces, Norway, Finland and South Korea.
Now, as it strikes animals across a widening territory, concern is growing among scientists and public health officials that the disease might leap to humans.
CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, another of which did jump species: Mad cow disease. In humans, mad cow disease is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and it has killed more than 220 people worldwide since the 1990s.
Some experts say that in a nation with an estimated 10 million deer hunters harvesting 6 million deer a year and eating many of them, it may be just a matter of time before chronic wasting makes its way to us. Read more.