Hunting season threatened by national ‘zombie deer’ outbreak

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Deer populations are being ravaged in 24 states and two Canadian provinces by an outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease, the Centers for Disease Control report.

The extremely contagious disease, in which the animal’s brain is eaten away, turns deer into “zombies,” leaving them lethargic, emaciated and unafraid of humans. In some areas as much as 25 percent of the deer population are infected.

The disease is spread by contact with infected body tissues, fluid urine or feces, and can infect humans. Similar to “mad cow disease,” it causes prions, or misfolded proteins, to eat holes in brain tissues.

Many states are requiring venison to be packed before it can be transported, or are banning the cross-state transportation of deer carcasses.

Among captive deer populations the infection rate can reach 79 percent, the CDC reports, leading to the disease being spread to wild populations by people who release deer to improve hunting stock.

“If someone illegally moves a deer to a new area thinking they’re going to improve the genetics of the local deer population by bringing deer from a breeding facility, for example, that’s the easiest way to transmit it,” Steve Demarais, a professor in the department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Agriculture at Mississippi State University, told FOX News earlier this year.

The infection is largely concentrated across nearly all of Wyoming, as well as in Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, but 277 counties in 24 states across the entire country are reporting CWD.