In case you haven’t heard, there’s a terrible disease plaguing Colorado’s deer population. It’s called chronic wasting disease. It’s always fatal, breaking down the neurological systems of an infected animal until that animal dies. Symptoms include stumbling, dramatic weight loss, teeth grinding, and awkward neck movements. On top of that, it’s highly contagious and extremely durable. Plus, there are no treatments or vaccines available.

While this disease has only been observed naturally in deer, elk, moose, reindeer, and sika deer, some recent studies have shown that the disease may pose a risk to non-human primates that consume meat of infected animals. Experts worry that this could indicate that humans may eventually become at risk.

Here’s a quote on the topic from Michael Osterholm, the Director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy:

“It is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of contaminated meat. […] It is possible that number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events.”

While this is one expert opinion on the subject, there’s still plenty of debate as to whether or not this prediction will hold true. Despite this ambiguity, some countries already seem to be preparing for this gap between cervids and humans to be bridged, as seen with Canada’s official warning about potential risks to humans.

One reason that chronic wasting disease is so scary is that it’s a “prion disease.” This family of disorders tend to have long incubation periods and are often associated with neuronal loss. Once these diseases rear their head, they’re typically “rapidly progressive and always fatal,” according to the CDC.

Thankfully, experts and lawmakers do seem to be taking this disease seriously, as seen with the recent introduction of a bill that would directly address research funding. Remember, there has yet to be a case of chronic wasting disease found in humans. Hopefully, proactive measures like this will prevent that from ever changing.

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