ILLINOIS — Animals with a disease known as “zombie deer” have been reported in 17 Illinois counties, as well as 24 other states, according to the CDC.
As of January 2019, the illness, called chronic wasting disease (CWD), in free-ranging deer, elk and/or moose has been reported in at least 24 states in the continental United States, as well as two provinces in Canada. In addition, CWD has been reported in reindeer and moose in Norway and Finland, and a small number of imported cases have been reported in South Korea, the CDC says. The disease has also been found in farmed deer and elk.
Currently, there are no vaccines or treatments available for the disease, which scientists say spreads directly through animal-to-animal contact but also indirectly through contaminated drinking water or food.
Animals with the disease have a zombie-like stare and they become so gaunt that their rib cages become exposed.
Hunters should have all game tested before they consume any animals they kill.
While there have been no reported cases of CWD in people, Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told lawmakers that the disease should be treated as a public health issue, claiming human cases of CWD will likely be “documented in the years ahead.”
CWD was first identified in captive deer in the late 1960s in Colorado and in wild deer in 1981. By the 1990s, it had been reported in surrounding areas in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Since 2000, the area known to be affected by CWD in free-ranging animals has increased to at least 24 states, including states in the Midwest, Southwest, and limited areas on the East Coast. It is possible that CWD may also occur in other states without strong animal surveillance systems, but that cases haven’t been detected yet. Once CWD is established in an area, the risk can remain for a long time in the environment. The affected areas are likely to continue to expand.
Osterholm said it is possible the number of human cases will be substantial.
“It is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead. It is possible that number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events,” he said, in part, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
If the disease could spread to people, it would most likely be through eating of infected deer and elk, the CDC says.
Nationwide, the overall occurrence of CWD in free-ranging deer and elk is relatively low. However, in several locations where the disease is established, infection rates may exceed 10 percent (1 in 10), and localized infection rates of more than 25 percent (1 in 4) have been reported. The infection rates among some captive deer can be much higher, with a rate of 79% (nearly 4 in 5) reported from at least one captive herd.
The “zombie deer” were reported in the following Illinois counties: Boone, Carroll, Dekalb, DuPage, Grundy, Jo Daviess, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, Livingston, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Will and Winnebago.