Chronic wasting disease is a concern for hunters, and as the season starts to heat up, public health officials in Pennsylvania are advising those who hunt to stick closely to safety guidelines to avoid transmission of the illness.
Chronic wasting disease is similar to other fatal brain diseases caused by prions, most notably the one that caused the “mad cow disease” outbreak in the UK in the 90s. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy was at the root of the mad cow issue, transmitted through the consumption by humans of meat from cows sickened by the fatal disease.
Chronic wasting disease has not been a massive issue in most of the US where hunting is common and venison is appreciated — but public health officials hope to prevent the potential transmission of the prion disease to humans as well as population of deer, elk and other animals at risk.
In Pennsylvania, officials have been taking several preventive measures to protect hunters and game from chronic wasting disease — though the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that there is no proof the illness can “jump” from sickened animals to healthy humans.
Christopher Cox, a spokesman for the CDC, confirmed in an email addressing the concerns:
“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that humans are at risk for (the disease) due to ingestion of meat from infected deer … Nonetheless, hunters should avoid eating meat from infected deer. Generally, it is not a good idea to eat meat from any sick animal.”
Pennsylvania newspaper the York Daily Record has published comprehensive chronic wasting disease safety guidelines for hunters in the 2012 season, including information on how to find “check stations” to identify potentially ill deer and elk.