Can Humans Get CWD From Deer?

by Jennifer Smith August 28, 2017

The federal government has quietly issued a warning that a progressive and fatal neurological disease affecting deer, elk, and moose populations in western Canada and the United States for decades might infect humans.

For years scientists thought that it highly unlikely that chronic wasting disease (CWD), a prion-caused disease related to Mad Cow, could be transferred to humans who eat venison. Prions are infectious, misfolded proteins.  

But dramatic new research has challenged that thinking. 

The Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada now warns that the potential for CWD “to be transmitted to humans cannot be excluded.” 

The advisory, issued on April 26, adds that “In exercising precaution, [the branch] continues to advocate that the most prudent approach is to consider that CWD has the potential to infect humans.”

The advisory says that Health Canada should continue “to recommend avoiding consumption of foods from known infected or any diseased animals, and taking precautions when handling cervid carcasses.” Cervids include deer, caribou, elk and moose.  

In addition, the advisory says rural people who have higher exposures to cervids through hunting and diet, such as Canada’s First Nations, should receive additional warnings.

“There is also the potential for Canadians to be exposed to cervids through farming (including veterinary services), slaughter, velvet harvest, as well as through field dressing of hunted animals, preparing trophies and/or the use of cervid-derived materials (e.g., urine) as hunting lures,” states the advisory.  

Stefanie Czub, a prominent prion researcher with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, told The Tyee that “The assumption was for the longest time that chronic wasting disease was not a threat to human health.”  

“But with the new data it seems we need to revisit this view to some degree,” she said.

Story re-posted from H5N1.

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith