This ZOMBIE disease is killing deer in Canada, hunters at risk

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New Delhi:  A weird, debilitating, and highly infectious virus is wreaking havoc on Canada’s deer herds.  The Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a concern in at least two of Canada’s provinces – Alberta and Saskatchewan – according to health experts.

 “This epidemic is sweeping among deer in the prairies and parklands,” said Margo Pybus, a wildlife disease expert with the Alberta government’s fish and wildlife department and a researcher at the University of Alberta.

In Canada, the disease first emerged in 1996 on an elk farm in Saskatchewan, then spread into wild populations. Alberta confirmed its first case in December 2005 in a wild deer, a game animal taken near the Saskatchewan border, said Pybus. CWD was detected through a sample submitted under the hunter surveillance program, in which hunters provide samples of harvested animals to check for the disease. 

What is CWD?

CWD belongs to a unique class of pathogens called prions, the same class of diseases to which bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly called mad cow disease, belongs, as well as scrapie, which infects sheep and goats, and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which sickens humans.

Can humans get infected?

To date, there have been no recorded cases in humans, but the U.S. Center for Diseases Control and Prevention “strongly recommends” having deer harvested from areas where CWD is known to be present before consuming it, and to not eat the meat if it tests positive. 

first published:April 7, 2022, 1:58 p.m.

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