In 2003, America discovered its first case of “mad cow” disease, a fatal brain disease that’s found in cattle. The infected cow was living in the state of Washington.  The “mad cow” disease is passed between cows through the practice of recycling bovine carcasses for meat and bone meal protein, which is fed back to other cattle. The USDA took a number of measures to ensure the infected meat didn’t end up on the plates of the American consumer. Now, a similar disease has been identified in the deer population in 24 states.

The disease has spread to 24 states, including Michigan. The target zone in Michigan is 16 counties in the center and western parts of the state. There have been 60 cases confirmed.

Here is a USA Today map showing where the “Zombie” deer disease can be found.

According to ClickOnDetroit, -No cases have been reported in humans, but many experts believe it’s just a matter of time before that happens. They compare the disease with the mad cow outbreak in the late 1980s in Britain.

To help combat the spread of the disease, baiting or feeding of deer is no longer allowed across Michigan’s lower peninsula.

According to USA Today -The disease affects deer’s brains and spinal cords through abnormal prion proteins that damage normal prion proteins, the CDC said. The cells collect and eventually burst, leaving behind microscopic empty spaces in the brain matter that give it a “spongy” look, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.

Symptoms, which can take more than a year to develop, include drastic weight loss, lack of coordination, listlessness, drooling, excessive thirst or urination, drooping ears, lack of fear of people and aggression.

The disease was first identified in captive deer in the late 1960s in Colorado and in wild deer in 1981, the CDC said. According to the health agency, CWD could be more widespread than 24 states.

“We are in an unknown territory situation,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told USA TODAY on Friday. 

“If you put this into a meat processing plant … this is kind of a worst-case nightmare,” Osterholm told lawmakers.

Osterholm said more needs to be done in the way of testing deer meat. Though some states test, it needs to be done quicker and with a more robust infrastructure to prevent infected deer from being consumed, he said.

The CDC recommended that hunters test deer before eating meat in affected areas. If a deer looks sick or acts strangely, hunters should not shoot or handle it or eat its meat, the health agency said.

“People have to understand the significance of this. We can’t wait until we have the first cases coming,” Osterholm told lawmakers.


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