‘Zombie deer disease’ discovered in Texas Hill Country

Chronic Wasting Disease found at a deer breeding facility in Gillespie County

GILLESPIE COUNTY, Texas – The highly infectious Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), also known as zombie deer disease, has been discovered in the Texas Hill Country.

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the disease was found at a deer breeding facility in Gillespie County, which includes Fredericksburg and the surrounding area.

A one-year-old white-tailed deer buck was found deceased and tissue samples from the animal were sent to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory on Aug. 17 as part of a required CWD surveillance program.

“Response staff are diligently working to conduct epidemiological investigations, but the nature of the disease makes definitive findings difficult to determine,” said Dr. Andy Schwartz, TAHC State Veterinarian. “The incubation period of CWD can span years creating disease detection and management challenges.”

CWD is a highly transmissible, fatal neurological disease that can remain infectious on the landscape for several years.

Clinical signs of the disease include progressive weight loss, stumbling or tremors with a lack of coordination, excessive thirst, salivation or urination, loss of appetite, teeth grinding, abnormal head posture and/or drooping ears.

TPWD officials said these signs might not become evident until long after an animal has been infected.

To date, 376 captive or free-ranging cervids — including white-tailed deer, mule deer, red deer and elk — in 15 Texas counties have tested positive for CWD, according to a press release from TPWD.

CWD was first discovered in 1967 in a captive mule deer in Colorado.

A map of the current distribution of CWD in North America can be seen on the U.S. Geological Survey’s Distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease in North America.

“The discovery of CWD in this breeding facility is an unfortunate situation that TPWD and Texas Animal Health Commission take very seriously,” said John Silovsky, Wildlife Division Director for TPWD. “Both agencies will respond appropriately to this matter to protect the state’s susceptible species from further disease exposure.”

Immediate action has been taken to secure all deer located at the facility and plans to conduct additional CWD investigations are underway, TPWD officials said.

Other breeding facilities that received deer or shipped deer to this facility over the last five years have also been notified and placed under movement restrictions.

There is no evidence that CWD poses a risk to humans.

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About the Author:

Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.