CWD-Infected Venison Kills a Number of Hunters Who Ingested the Meat

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Apr 18, 2024

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a common illness found in deer throughout North America.

Since 1967, the illness has become a big problem for avid hunters who encounter this fatal neurological disease in wild deer. 

Origins of the Disease

The illness was first detected in a captive deer facility in Wyoming during the 1960s.

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While the disease is always fatal to the deer and hooved animals that contract it, it hasn’t made the jump to another species. Until 2022 it was thought that the illness was pesky, but couldn’t become contracted by humans.

Two Hunters at the Same Lodge Were Infected

Concerns of the disease mutating to infect humans happened in 2022 when two hunters from the same lodge became infected and died from eating deer meat. 

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The hunting world blew up with concern over the recent transmission. Diseases are known to mutate and make big species jumps in order to infect a larger number of hosts. A similar issue occurred when the Covid-19 virus jumped from bats to humans.

Similar Diseases Are Prevalent

At the same time as the 2022 incident, a similar illness was detected after the original CWD transmission was discovered.

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A small cluster of the Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) was detected in the same area as the CWD infected deer. Scientists note that CJD suggests an earlier jump of the fatal neurological disease to humans.

What Is CJD?

Similar to mad cow disease, CJD attacks the brain and leads to ultimate death in the animals who are unlucky enough to contract it.

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During the mad cow craze in the United States, it was common to test for the illness and immediately separate the infected animals in factory farming. This practice poses a bigger challenge when the illness spreads among wild deer populations.

Related Symptoms in Humans

When the 2022 incident occurred, one of the men infected at the hunting lodge was a 72-year-old man with a history of consuming meat from CWD-infected deer.

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The longtime hunter quickly experienced symptoms of confusion and aggression before being taken to medical professionals for help. 


Untimely Death for the Hunter Involved

After being taken to the hospital for evaluation, the patient began experiencing violent seizures and heightened agitation.

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A month after the initial infection, the hunter succumbed to his illnesses and died a rather painful death. During a postmortem analysis, hospital staff were able to conclude that CJD was, in fact, present.


First Cases of Deer Related CJD

While humans have been infected with CJD due to eating infected beef in the past, this was the first instance of contracting the illness from wild deer.

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The immediate action of the side-effects shows just how quickly, even cooked meat, can attack and infect the new host’s brain.


Another Hunter Infected at the Lodge

After tracing the illness back to the particular incident at the lodge, other men who ate the same infected deer were tested.

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One other hunter was found to have contracted the disease and ultimately died from the illness after a short time.


The Disease Has Been Detected All Over the United States

Wild deer often travel great distances and can spread diseases into neighboring herds. As the disease spreads, it quickly jumps to attack new hosts to stay alive.

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CWD has been found in 32 U.S. states according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Three States Hold the Largest Population of Infected Animals

Although the illness can be found in most states where wild deer populate forests, the three states with the largest population of the illness are Kansas, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

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All three of these states have large numbers of deer and hunters.


Further Surveillance and Tracking Is Needed

While the disease is still newly affecting humans, more data on where the illness is most prevalent is needed.

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Researchers and scientists hope to track the disease moving forward to avoid any more human deaths and to keep deer populations healthy.