'Zombie deer disease' has now spread to 33 states in the US

So far, no one has gotten chronic wasting disease from animals, but there's worry that hunters who kill and eat infected animals might be at risk.
A white-tailed deer.
Posted at 7:24 PM, Apr 29, 2024

“Zombie deer disease," officially known as chronic wasting disease, has been detected in 33 states across the United States.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources announced that, for the first time in the state, they found the disease in a white-tailed deer taken by a hunter during deer season in LaGrange County earlier this month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CWD is a highly contagious and fatal disease that is caused by an abnormal protein called a “prion” that affects deer, elk, and moose. Currently, there is no known treatment or vaccine for it. It’s been dubbed the "zombie deer disease" because it induces physiological and behavioral changes, leading to emaciation and eventual death.

While the CDC says that it's not known if CWD could spread to humans, a new study suggests that two hunters who ate deer meat infected with CWD ended up testing positive for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal brain disorder, and it suggests that prions could possibly cross from one species to another. The study, which was published in the Journal of Neurology, also states that more tests need to be conducted to prove this theory.

Nevertheless, the CDC advises hunters to be cautious while hunting and to reduce the risk of exposure by following these guidelines:

  • Avoid already dead, sick-looking, or strange-acting deer or elk.
  • Wear gloves while handling the meat, and minimize how much you handle the organs.
  • Do not use household utensils to remove organs.
  • Follow state guidance on testing; strongly consider testing before eating.
  • Test deer or elk for CWD before you eat the meat.
  • Do not eat the meat from any animal that tests positive for CWD.

To see the list of all the states where CWD has been detected, click here.