As more than 20 states report cases of a brain-wasting animal disease informally called “zombie” deer disease, officials worry that humans could be affected.
Chronic wasting disease has been found in deer, elk and/or moose in at least 24 states and two Canadian provinces since the start of the year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. There are no vaccines or treatments available for the disease, which is always fatal.
“It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption with contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “It’s possible the number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events.”
No cases of CWD have been reported in humans to date, but research suggests it poses a risk to humans.
Here’s what the CDC says you should know about preventing CWD:
Don’t touch road-kill.
People shouldn’t handle or eat meat from dead animals. Also, never shoot and handle a deer or elk that is acting strangely. Animals infected with CWD might be extremely underweight, stumbling and listless. If you see an animal that appears to be sick, take note of its location and contact wildlife officials.
Test deer before eating meat.
Some states recommend or require hunters have deer or elk tested before eating their meat. But even a test can detect CWD only at a certain stage. There is not a test that can definitively say the animal is negative for the disease, Texas Parks and Wildlife notes. Information about what your state recommends is available from state wildlife agencies.
More: ‘Zombie’ deer disease: What is it, and could it affect humans?
More: ‘Zombie’ deer disease is in 24 states and thousands of infected deer are eaten each year, expert warns
Wear gloves when field-dressing a deer.
The CDC recommends wearing latex or rubber gloves when handing a hunted animal and its meat. Also, minimize the time spent touching organs such as the brain and spinal cord tissues. Never use household knives or utensils for field dressing. Always wash hands and disinfect hunting instruments after use.
Process meat individually.
Hunters who typically have deer or elk commercially processed might want to ask whether their animals can be processed individually to avoid any chance of contamination.
Contributing: Karen Chávez, Sarah Bowman and Ryan Miller. Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets