Zombie deer might sound like something in a bad B-grade movie, but wildlife regulators have said that they are real and officials are working to keep them out of Nevada.
The term relates to animals that have contracted chronic wasting disease, a highly contagious and terminal disorder that causes symptoms such as lack of fear of humans, lethargy and emaciation, the Las Vegas Sun reported.
It can destroy deer and elk populations.
Officials are testing dead animals and monitoring migratory elk and deer at the state border with Utah for signs of the sickness, Nevada Department of Wildlife veterinarian Peregrine Wolff said.
Nevada legislators earlier this year passed a law to keep parts of certain carcasses out of the state in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.
States reporting animals with the illness include Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.
The disease is neither viral nor bacterial. Instead, it is transmitted by prions — protein particles that have been linked to brain diseases, including mad cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
Prion diseases damage brain tissue, leading to abnormal behavior, and are incurable.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised concern that chronic wasting disease might pose a risk to humans.
The minimum time between exposure and the first symptoms is thought to be 16 months, according to a study posted to the Center for Food Security and Public Health.
The average incubation period is two to four years. Some studies show that animals are contagious before symptoms start.
Finding just one case is rare, because the disease is so contagious and it remains in the environment for years, Wolff said.
A 2004 study in the Centers for Disease Control’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal showed that two captive mule deer populations were infected with the disease in separate paddocks that had not had infected animals in them for about two years.
Nevada lawmakers this year banned bringing certain animal body parts into the state, including the brain and the spinal cord, which can contain large concentrations of prions.
In testimony about the proposed law, Nevada Chief Game Warden Tyler Turnipseed posed a scenario in which local populations are infected by exposure to butchered waste dumped by a hunter passing through Nevada from another state.
Officials fear the spread of the disease into Nebraska, Utah, Idaho and Nevada, Nevada Department of Agriculture veterinarian J.J. Goicoechea told lawmakers.
Efforts to decrease risk probably would not stop the disease at the Nevada state line, Wolff said.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” she said. “We know that we can’t wrap Nevada in a bubble.”
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