Recently, a medical case report has shed light on a disturbing possibility – a fatal prion disease, known as chronic wasting disease, may have crossed over from deer to humans. The report details the tragic deaths of two hunters who consumed venison from a group of deer infected with chronic wasting disease, also referred to as “zombie deer” disease. This prion disease, similar to mad cow disease, is incurable and ultimately leads to fatality.

The report describes a 72-year-old man who passed away after displaying symptoms of rapid-onset confusion and aggression. Subsequently, his friend, who was part of the same hunting lodge, also succumbed to the disease after showing similar symptoms. It was determined through post-mortem analysis that the second individual had died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a prion disease that affects humans.

Prion diseases are particularly terrifying due to the way they affect the body. Prions are misfolded proteins that disrupt normal cellular functioning and can cause nearby proteins to also fold incorrectly. This cascade effect results in the spread of dysfunctional tissue that cannot be stopped or cured. The symptoms of prion diseases often mimic accelerated dementia, eventually leading to the patient’s demise.

Chronic Wasting Disease Concerns

Chronic wasting disease primarily infects animals such as deer, elk, and moose, with transmission believed to occur through bodily fluids like blood or saliva. Research has even shown that the disease can affect mice with human genetic material in laboratory settings. Despite these risks, humans have been largely unconcerned about the potential dangers posed by chronic wasting disease.

The case report does not definitively state whether the two hunters contracted chronic wasting disease or if their illness stemmed from another source. While prion diseases can arise spontaneously, such instances are exceedingly rare. The disease is widespread across North America, affecting wild deer populations in numerous states and Canada, as well as farmed deer.

Call for Caution

Medical experts emphasize the need for thorough investigation into the risks associated with consuming deer infected with chronic wasting disease. The potential for zoonotic transmission of prion diseases to humans has long been a concern, and these tragic cases underscore the importance of vigilance. The report underscores the necessity of further research into the possible implications for public health and the potential for cross-species prion transmission.


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