Deer Disease May Harm Humans, After All

by Jennifer Smith June 26, 2017

For years, scientists thought that it was unlikely that humans could be exposed to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Up until this point, deer, elk, and moose populations within Canada and the United States could only transfer the fatal neurological disease to their own herd; but now, The Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada warns Americans and Canadians both about the dangers of CWD. Currently, there isn't a treatment or vaccine for CWD.

“There is 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.

Individuals who have eaten venison infected with CWD have experienced anxiety, tremors and ataxia.

Chronic Wasting Disease is transmitted animal-to-animal via shedding of the infectious agent in the feces and saliva. Deer with CWD will show signs of the disease for several weeks or months before they die and are usually within the 3-4 year age group.

CWD appeared to be a problem on commercial farms in Alberta in 2004 and has since spread into Red Deer, Battle River and Vermilion River. In the states, the disease has been confirmed in 24 states including Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Farmed cervids must be tested in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Yukon. For deer farmers, it's best to remove deer from herds, if you notice these symptoms:

  • depression;
  • difficulty swallowing;
  • excess salivation;
  • increased thirst;
  • lack of coordination;
  • paralysis;
  • pneumonia;
  • separation from the other animals in the herd;
  • unusual behavior;
  • excessive urination; and
  • weight loss

Deer breeders and farmers are required to report deer with Chronic Wasting Disease to the CFIA and quarantine the area with a deer fence.

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith