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Possible Cases of 'Zombie Deer Disease' Causing Human Deaths Identified in US

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The deaths of two men in the United States a couple years ago might have been caused by cases of a dangerous prion disease jumping from animals to humans.
Certain deaths in the US attributed to a degenerative brain disorder known as Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) could actually be related to a prion disease that usually affects animals, according to a study published in the journal Neurology earlier this month.
According to the researchers, prior to their demise both men consumed meat from a deer population afflicted with chronic wasting disease (CWD).
This disease, also referred to as the “zombie deer disease,” affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose and has been found in North America, Norway and South Korea, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes on its website.
While the CDC states there have been no reported cases of the disease afflicting people, it also warns that certain studies suggest “a risk to certain types of non-human primates, like monkeys, that eat meat from CWD-infected animals or come in contact with brain or body fluids from infected deer or elk.”
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In their work the authors of the new research argue that, based on their findings, “cross-species transmission of CJD is plausible,” and “it is not possible to definitively rule out CWD in these cases.”
“The patient’s history, including a similar case in his social group, suggests a possible novel animal-to-human transmission of CWD,” they wrote, adding that “it is not possible to definitively rule out CWD in these cases.”
The researchers also remark that, “although causation remains unproven, this cluster emphasizes the need for further investigation into the potential risks of consuming CWD-infected deer and its implications for public health.”
“Clusters of sporadic CJD cases may occur in regions with CWD-confirmed deer populations, hinting at potential cross-species prion transmission. Surveillance and further research are essential to better understand this possible association,” they surmise in the conclusion of their work.
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