Chronic wasting disease spreads in Wisconsin: Should humans be concerned?

Hunters love the thrill of the chase in Wisconsin, but with more deer being infected by chronic wasting disease (CWD), should they consider backing off? What’s more, should humans be worried about infection too?

According to The Cap Times, CWD cases have occurred in the state since 2002. At that time, the state would then kill entire herds on commercial deer farms to eliminate the problem. Commercial farms would also have to be sanitized.

However, in 2013, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) allowed some facilities with infected deer to continue operating. That precedence still plays out today.

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Now, affected facilities are not allowed to move live deer on or off their premises, reports The Cap Times. However, they can choose to keep unaffected deer alive.

The newspaper mentions how officials see this response: it’s meant to keep CWD inside the fences of infected facilities. However, now there are 9 total deer facilities infected by CWD still in operation.

Can CWD Spread to Humans?

Chronic wasting disease is a highly contagious brain disease that affects deer, elk and moose populations.

According to the CDC, scientists believe it’s caused by proteins called prions. The prions spread among animals through bodily fluids or contaminated food or water.

Scientists also think the prions stick around long after an infected animal is dead, making the disease difficult to prevent.

Currently, researchers don’t know about any dangers to humans, and the CDC said there haven't been any reported cases of CWD infection in people.

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However, the CDC mentions that several studies have found CWD transmission possible in mice and monkeys, which carry similar genes to humans.

In addition, the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance points out 3 rare cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans (4).

In 1997-1998, three young adults were found to have the extremely rare CJD. The disease has similar symptoms to CWD.

All three young adults had eaten venison, raising concern over whether these were cases of CWD transmission. However, the CDC found no direct evidence for this concern, states the CWD Alliance.

Despite there being zero chronic wasting disease cases found in humans, CDC states:

“These experimental studies raise the concern that CWD may pose a risk to people and suggest that it is important to prevent human exposures to CWD.” Research into the risk for humans is still ongoing.