"Zombie Deer Disease" surfacing in Texas: What is it?

"Zombie Deer Disease" surfacing in Texas: What is it?

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

An outbreak called zombie deer disease is surfacing in parts of Texas, with the first case discovered in the state in 2012. 

While not like it sounds, Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Sam Harryman said it is a serious threat to deer populations across the country.

"The disease that people are referring to as 'zombie deer disease' is actually what we would call Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), that is the formal term for it," Harryman said.

He said the disease is borne through indestructible proteins called prions, slowly eating away at a deer's brain.

"It's a neurological disease that has been documented in deer species such as like what's in Texas: Whitetail deer, mule deer, another species like elk and moose in North America. It's been documented in 24 states that we know of and two Canadian provinces," Harryman said.

He said clinical signs include emaciation, excess salivation, and a drooping head. 

"One thing about CWD is that it is always fatal. So it's kind of the opposite of 'zombie deer.' Deer are not coming back to life and they're not wanting to attack you or anything. These deer are very sick and they're about to die," Harryman said.

If left unnoticed, Harryman said it would not only impact the long-term outlook of the deer species, but it could also crush small town economies where hunting is prominent. 

"A lot of small towns throughout Texas come alive during deer season. So if that's what could happen, you know, if CWD goes unchecked and it spreads to other parts of Texas and becomes more prevalent, one, it will possibly reduce deer herds, and two, hunting participation," Harryman said.

While he said there have been no human cases, the Center for Disease Control, as well as the TPWD, recommends not eating deer that appear sickly and to wait for CWD test results within CWD zones before eating the meat. 

However, if a hunter shoots a healthy-looking deer in a non-CWD zone, TPWD reported there should be little worry about eating the meat. 

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