Chronic wasting disease has been spreading slowly in a number of states including Montana, Michigan, Arkansas, Wyoming, Virginia, and, recently, Minnesota.

Many people who are unaware of this disease are now probably wondering whether it can affect humans the same way it affects deer and whether they should be worried about it or not, as some think the disease may one day cross over the species barrier.

What Is Chronic Wasting Disease?

Chronic wasting disease or CWD is a deadly neurological disease that affects the deer population, including mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose, and reindeer.

CWD has been found in some areas in North America, including 23 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. It was also detected in Norway and South Korea. The disease affects the nervous system and can be transmitted directly via contact with infected animals through their bodily tissues and fluids.

Animals that are infected by the disease may take more than a year to develop symptoms, including weight loss (wasting), listlessness, and stumbling, among other neurologic symptoms. The disease is progressive but nevertheless very deadly.

Can CWD Affect Humans?

There's a growing concern that CWD may one day cross the species barrier and start infecting humans. CWD is a prion disease that is similar to mad cow disease, which causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

It is said that people cannot get mad cow disease, but they may get a human form of it called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This can happen if people eat nerve tissue of cattle that were infected by mad cow disease.

Fortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there haven't been any cases of CWD infection among human beings to date. The CDC, however, is still urging people not to eat meat that came from CWD-infected deer or coming into contact with their brains and bodily fluids.

Also, since 1997, the World Health Organization cited the importance of preventing the "agents of all known prion diseases" from entering the human food chain.

What Are Officials Doing About it?

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks are currently drafting plans for a special hunt to monitor the deer disease situation.

The officials are trying to work out where the special hunt will take place and how many deer would need to be killed to get a statistically valid sample.

In Tennessee, wildlife officials have warned deer hunters of CWD after four people were caught importing white-tailed deer carcasses into the state from Virginia.

In Washington, officials have restricted hunters from bringing in deer carcasses that were harvested in any of the CWD-positive states.

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