Breaking News
More () »

St. Louis Breaking News, Weather, Traffic, Sports | KSDK.com

VERIFY: Yes, 'zombie deer' are spreading but the name is a bit of an exaggeration

There's a scary claim going around: that "zombie deer" are spreading across the U.S. and could soon infect humans. It's based on facts, but could be exaggerated.

It's a frightening headline appearing in numerous forms. The core claim: that "zombie deer" are spreading across the U.S. and could soon infect humans.

Is it true? Partially. But it's definitely not as severe as "zombie deer" makes it sound.

Here are some examples.


Is there a real disease making deer zombies? Are humans at risk of contracting the disease?


Deer are suffering from chronic wasting disease (CWD). 'Zombie deer' might be a bit of a hyperbole. There is no known instance of humans contracting CWD, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) fears that may change at some point.


Chronic wasting disease isn't new. It was first found in a captive deer in the late 1960s and a wild deer in 1981, according to the CDC. CDC has never found CWD in humans. So why are people talking about it now? What's scaring everyone?

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, recently told the Minnesota legislature, "It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption with contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead. It’s possible the number of human cases will be substantial, and will not be isolated events."

The CDC found in a recent experiment that the disease infected squirrel monkeys and lab mice that carried human genes. 

CWD is a fatal prion disease related to mad cow disease. While CWD currently only infects deer, moose, elk and reindeer, there is fear that it could eventually infect and kill humans similar to mad cow disease in the 1990s.

So what exactly is CWD and why do people call it 'zombie deer' disease?

CWD damages the deer's brain, causing it to act abnormally. Some of the symptoms the CDC lists are drooling, stumbling, lack of coordination, lack of fear of humans, listlessness and drastic weight loss. These behaviors resemble common depictions of zombies in fiction.

Emily Wood of the Indiana Wildlife Federation told the Indy Star that the disease has no cure or preventative measures at this time.

Therefore, once a deer gets the disease, death is inevitable. However, it doesn't mean death is around the corner. Sometimes, it can be more than a year before symptoms of the disease even emerge, the CDC says.

As a result, the CDC recommends hunters test all deer hunted within infected areas. That's 251 counties across 24 states and two Canadian provinces as of January 2019.

While the stations and locations for testing vary state to state, a simple google search of "your area + CWD testing" should give you the appropriate results.

The CDC also recommends hunters do not shoot, handle or eat meat from a deer that looks sick, is acting strangely or found dead.

Deer season in the affected states can begin as early as September and run as late as January.

While there have been no cases of CWD infecting humans at this time, the CDC wants people to take precautions to avoid someone becoming the first.