cS culTure eXPlaiNED

Scientists are concerned about the spread of disease within deer populations in North America, write Samuel White and Philippe Wilson.

In the tranquil expanses of North America’s woodlands and grasslands, a silent but concerning phenomenon is unfolding: chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The condition — often dubbed "zombie deer disease" — is stealthily spreading among deer populations, sparking concerns among scientists, conservationists and the public alike.

This neurological affliction, characterised by myriad symptoms, such as drooling, lethargy, stumbling and a vacant gaze, has now been detected in over 800 samples of deer, elk and moose in Wyoming alone, highlighting the scale and urgency of the issue.

At the heart of the CWD puzzle lies a peculiar culprit: prions.
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Prion diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans and “mad cow disease” in cattle, have shown that they can cross the species barrier – with devastating consequences.

The outbreak of mad cow disease in Britain, for instance, resulted in the slaughter of millions of cattle and led to 178 human deaths attributed to the human variant of the disease since 1995.
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