Zombie deer disease possibly linked to hunters’ deaths

April 24, 2024  15:11

A group of so-called “zombie” disease-infected deer could be linked to the deaths of two hunters who ate venison from the same population, researchers say.

A study that appeared earlier this month in the journal Neurology noted a possible cross-species transmission between chronic wasting disease (CWD) in animals and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans.

People sometimes refer to CWD as “zombie deer disease” because its symptoms can include weight loss, drooling, confusion, listlessness and stumbling.

The study suggests clusters of CJD cases may happen in regions where there are CWD-confirmed deer populations. The connection hints at a potential cross-species transmission, but understanding the possible association requires more research, according to the study.

Researchers cited a 2022 case of a 72-year-old man who had a history of eating meat from an infected deer population and experienced rapid onset confusion and aggression.

His friend, who had also eaten venison from the same deer population, recently died of CJD, a rare brain disorder that can lead to dementia.

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CWD is a prion disease — a classification of diseases that cause neurodegenerative changes and are almost always fatal. Such diseases have previously spread from animals to humans. The most publicly recognized case may be bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as “mad cow disease.”

Hunters should avoid eating meat from deer that act strangely or are found dead and should wear gloves while dressing the animal, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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