Chronic Wasting Disease Affecting Nation’s Elk and Deer

CWD or “Chronic Wasting Disease” is spreading across the country infecting many elk and deer populations causing them to deteriorate and die.

This disease has been around for years but was not known because of how long it can take for symptoms to show. Similar to mad cow disease, CWD gets its name from the loss of weight over time in animals, hence “wasting.” This disease is prionic, meaning it attacks the brain and spinal tissue, and can be spread through bodily fluids, foods, or water.

While CWD is concerning to us, there is no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans, although it is advised that people shouldn’t eat infected deer or elk meat.

Brian Appleby, MD, Director of the National Prion Disease Pathology

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Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University says the biggest problem right now is, “Not only do we not know if transmission to humans is possible, but we also don’t know what that would look like”, “Most prion disease tends to look fairly similar, but really the only way to know where a disease is coming from is to look at the brain tissue”.


Although there is no real evidence of CWD affecting humans, experts say it’s better to be safe than sorry, “Since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended that it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain”, according to the CDC. Hunters who live off of wild meats and animals don’t have it tested first, and this population is quite large; there is an estimated 7,000 to 15,000 CWD infected animals to be consumed by families each year, which is greatly increasing.

Even if no humans have gotten sick from CWD so far, “Obviously we don’t think that it’s a good thing for people to eat any kind of meat that could be contaminated with a prion disease” Appleby says. “Take advantage of these testing services, take precautions, and don’t put yourself at risk”.