'It'd be devastating': What happens if 'zombie' deer disease reaches New Zealand

The deadly 'zombie deer disease' spreading around the world could reach New Zealand - and if it arrives, the results might be "devastating".

Known as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) - or "zombie deer disease" - the contagious disease attacks the brains of members of the deer family, leaving emaciated animals with a zombie-like appearance before they die.

The animals begin to suffer dementia and hallucinations before the symptoms worsen. They start struggling with walking and loss of bodily functions before their inevitable death. There is no known cure.

The danger comes as the New Zealand deer industry continues to grow, with farmed deer numbers - including the number of breeding hinds and fawns - increasing last year.

If CWD reaches our shores, the Deer Industry of NZ (DINZ) warns it would be "devastating" for deer farmers.

"We believe the risk of introduction of CWD into New Zealand is relatively low, but because the impact of incursion would be so significant, it's a risk we must take very seriously," CEO Dan Coup told Newshub.

"The New Zealand deer industry is over 90 percent reliant on exports, and a CWD incursion would likely result in the closure of all major export markets, so the impact on industry would be devastating."

New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)told Newshub it "closely monitors the threat" CWD poses to us.

"CWD is not present in New Zealand and we have never had a reported case of the disease here," a spokesperson told Newshub.

"If it were to reach New Zealand, CWD could cause significant harm to our deer industry."

In the US, attempts to control the spread of the disease has led to widespread culls of wild deer populations. An infection on a farm here would have even more serious consequences.

"When a case is confirmed in a farmed herd, authorities have to treat all animals in the herd as infected," DINZ says on its website.

"Typically the herd is then humanely slaughtered, burnt and buried. In the event of an outbreak of CWD in New Zealand, the control measures would be similar to those deployed in a foot and mouth disease outbreak.

"However, owing to long-term environmental contamination by the disease agent, it is likely that farms where CWD was detected would be depopulated for an extended period."

Strict import rules are in place to minimise the risk of CWD, and deer products from CWD-affected countries are not permitted to be imported here.

But there is a risk that hunters and trampers entering New Zealand might bring it in with them on their equipment.

"Some regions overseas where CWD is established are popular with hikers, skiers and trophy hunters," DINZ says on its website.

"This means CWD could be accidentally introduced to New Zealand on outdoor gear that has been used overseas. Also sometimes things slip undetected through the border, such as deer urine hunting lures, untreated hides or untreated trophies."

MPI says all New Zealanders have an important role to play to protect the country from the introduction of CWD.

"International travellers coming through customs with hunting equipment are required to present their equipment to quarantine officers and be visibly free from contamination," a spokesperson told Newshub.

And DINZ is taking proactive action to make sure the disease never gets here.

"DINZ has run a series of awareness campaigns within the deer industry to highlight the risks of CWD and to reinforce the importance of deer farmers and their guests strictly observing biosecurity requirements," Mr Coup told Newshub.

"Follow the normal biosecurity rules when returning home to New Zealand, and pay particular attention to ensuring that shoes, clothes and gear is clean if you have travelled in the countryside in North America."