‘Zombie Deer Disease’ reported in 23 states

Jayla Pendleton


A disease in deer and elk that has earned a frightening nickname continues to spread across the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease often called “zombie deer disease,” is more properly referred to as a chronic wasting disease, scientists say.

The disease is a fatal, progressive, neurodegenerative illness that was first identified in the 1960s. It is similar to mad cow disease, in that it is spread by prions, pathogenic proteins that aren’t alive, so they can’t be killed. When the disease infects an animal, the prions eat away at the animal’s brain, often causing symptoms that resemble dementia and eventually cause death. As CWD progresses, infected animals may have a variety of changes in behavior and appearance, including:

  • Drastic weight loss (wasting)
  • Stumbling
  • Lack of coordination
  • Listlessness
  • Drooling
  • Excessive thirst or urination
  • Drooping ears
  • Lack of fear


CWD has been found in North American elk, red deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, Sika deer, reindeer and moose in parts of Canada and the United States, as well as Norway and South Korea. According to the CDC, 251 counties in 24 states in the U.S. had reported chronic wasting disease in free-ranging deer.


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