Deer hunting is a big problem in many states in the United States, and surveys suggest that around 10 million hunters regularly participate in the activity. As any hunter will tell you, caressing a deer is not always the easiest task, but a growing risk of illness makes things even more difficult for sportsmen, even after bagging a buck or a deer.
Public health researchers and infectious diseases are doing their best to raise awareness about a disease that has now been confirmed in deer populations in at least 24 states. It is called chronic wasting disease, and the Centers for Disease Control fears that it may be possible for the disease to spread to humans who eat infected animals.
If you live in an area where deer hunting is common, you've probably heard of chronic wasting disease (or CWD) before. It is not a particularly new disease – it was originally discovered in the late '60s – but confirmed cases among deer and wild elk populations have spread rapidly into new states since 2001.
The disease is absolutely devastating for the animals that are affected. They assume a "zombie-like" state and exhibit strange behavior and physical deterioration, with uncovered ribs and a general ill appearance.
CWD affects the brain with misfolded proteins known as prions. Prion diseases exist in humans and are typically fatal, and the same applies to animals with CWD. The disease progresses until the animal dies, and there is no known cure or way to reverse the damage.
The CDC warns against the consumption of (or even physical contact with) an animal deemed to be infected with CWD. It is recommended that animals suspected of having CWD be left alone and not collected. Hunters are recommended to have animals killed in areas that have established the presence of CWD for the disease before eating meat, even if the animal seemed healthy.
It is worth noting that there is no scientific evidence that CWD can be transmitted from infected deer to humans. However, prion infections caused by the consumption of animals have been implicated in the deaths in the past, so it is obviously better to be careful with caution.