deer cwd
A deer infected with Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD. Credit: USGS

Hunters' Death May Be Linked to Chronic Wasting Disease

Although there have been no reported cases of CWD infecting humans, researchers may have found a possible transmission.

Although there have been no reported cases of chronic wasting disease infecting humans, a group of researchers say they found a case in which hunters contracted a deadly disease after eating CWD-infected venison.

The paper, published in the April 2023 issue of the medical journal Neurology, details the case of two hunters contracting a fatal neurological disorder called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) after consuming venison from a deer infected with chronic wasting disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes CJD as a variant of CWD and a prion disease, meaning it can be transferred from animals like cows to humans.

cwd infected deer

A deer with visible signs of chronic wasting disease (CWD). Credit: Terry Kreeger/Wyoming Game & Fish

According to the paper, one of the men, only identified as 72 years old, ate the deer meat and shortly thereafter, developed rapid neurological issues such as confusion and aggression and died about a month later.

The other man, who also ate the venison, had recently died of CJD, so doctors tested the 72-year-old for the disease postmortem and confirmed that he did in fact die of CJD.

What the researchers were able to deduce from the scenario is that clusters of sporadic CJD cases may occur in regions of CWD-infected deer populations. The researchers say the link hints at a "potential cross-species prion transmission," but more research is needed.

According to a recent study by the United States Geological Survey, CWD has been found in wild herds of animals in all 50 states and in a handful of captive populations, but infected populations are concentrated in the mid-west and western states.