Nevada fighting to keep deer from contracting disease with zombie-like symptoms

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal illness that affects the brain and spinal cord of deer, elk, moose and reindeer.
Image: Deer
DeerKenzo Tribouillard / AFP - Getty Images

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By Janelle Griffith

Officials in Nevada are hoping to evade a deadly infection known as chronic wasting disease that affects deer, elk, moose and reindeer this hunting season.

Chronic wasting disease is a contagious neurological disorder that reduces the brain of an infected animal.

"It is believed to be caused by a mutated protein, called a prion that attaches to, and transforms healthy brain proteins into disfigured mutations that lead to a deterioration of the brain, and ultimately death of the animal," according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

Animals that have contracted it behave like zombies, the agency said, adding that the disease is easy to spot.

Symptoms include lack of fear of humans, lethargy and emaciation, as well as excessive drinking, stumbling and difficulty running, the agency said.

Chronic wasting disease can be devastating in farmed herds, according to the Center for Food Security and Public Health.

A spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife told NBC News it hasn't detected chronic wasting disease since it began monitoring the illness in the 1990s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised concern that chronic wasting disease may pose a risk to humans.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife is urging hunters to visit mobile sampling stations at various gas stations to check their carcasses for the disease this hunting season.

"We're just trying to keep monitoring it to prevent it from spreading here," Ashley Sanchez, a public information officer at the agency, told NBC News on Monday. "And if it does get in here, we want to get on it quickly."

Sanchez noted that Nevada legislators passed a law earlier this year to keep parts of certain carcasses out of the state in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.