If there’s one deer disease that concerns most hunters, it’s CWD (chronic wasting disease). Also known as “zombie deer disease,” this is an alarming condition and scientists have not yet ruled out the possibility of humans catching it from eating deer meat. That is why many hunters ask, what does CWD look like in deer meat?
Unfortunately, CWD often has a long incubation period in deer that contract it. In some cases, it may take between one and two years for a deer carrying CWD to show any symptoms. In fact, this is the most common scenario.
Here’s an overview of what we’ll discuss in this complete guide:
- Can you see CWD in deer meat?
- How to test deer meat for CWD
- Can humans get CWD?
- What should you do if you discover the deer you’ve butchered has CWD?
- Should you get your deer meat commercially processed?
Can You See CWD in Deer Meat?
No, it’s not possible to see CWD in deer meat. You should send the deer meat for testing with wildlife authorities if your area has CWD (or you suspect it does).
As we touched on earlier, CWD has a long incubation period that may extend to one or two years. As a result, a deer may have the disease even if it doesn’t show any symptoms.
A deer that has started to show the symptoms of CWD may appear extremely thin or emaciated.
You should avoid killing a deer in this condition. It may mean it has CWD or another disease.
Generally speaking, if a deer appears unhealthy, you shouldn’t eat its meat until you’ve had it tested. Even if it doesn’t have CWD, it may well have another disease that makes the meat dangerous to eat.
How to Test Deer Meat for CWD?
You can send deer meat to your local wildlife agency for CWD testing. You should do this before eating the meat if your region has CWD in its deer populations.
Contact this agency immediately for more information. Wait until you hear the results and know for certain that the deer didn’t have CWD before you consume the venison or give it to anyone else to eat.
What is Your Region’s CWD Status?
Contact agencies in your region to determine whether there is CWD in your region’s deer populations. It’s best to do this before you go hunting.
At least 25 states in the United States are currently known to have a CWD problem.
The Southwest and Midwest are the most common locations, while there are some smaller parts of the East Coast where deer with CWD have been found.
Can Humans Get Chronic Wasting Disease?
Scientists aren’t yet sure whether humans can get chronic wasting disease (CWD). There has never been a reported case of a human catching CWD from a deer or deer meat, but this doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
That is why you should be extremely cautious about deer meat and have it tested if there is any possibility of CWD.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States firmly advises never to eat venison that you suspect may be from a deer with CWD.
Don’t take chances with this. After all, the symptoms of CWD we see in symptomatic deer are severe and it is a lethal disease.
In other words, every deer infected with CWD will die from the disease. It’s a disease that attacks the brain and neurological system.
Experts believe that an improperly folded protein, or prion, causes chronic wasting disease. After an infected deer becomes symptomatic, it may experience symptoms such as lethargy and weakness, emaciation, stumbling, and more.
Can Humans Get CWD from Eating an Infected Deer?
While there hasn’t yet been a reported case of a human contracting CWD from eating venison from an infected deer, scientists don’t know whether or not it is possible.
In other words, it may be possible and that is why you should never take a chance with this. If there is CWD in your area, have deer meat tested before anyone eats it.
Who Should You Contact if You Kill a Deer with CWD?
If you think a deer you killed may have CWD, contact the wildlife authorities in your area for advice and instructions.
What to Do If You Discover the Deer You’re Butchering Has CWD?
Always use correct field dressing procedures when butchering a deer. This will help to protect you from disease.
Ensure you are wearing rubber or latex gloves during the entire process, including both field dressing and all meat handling.
To reduce the potential risk from CWD, avoid touching the deer’s spinal cord tissues, the brain, and the organs as much as possible. If the deer has CWD, it will be most prevalent in those areas.
Never use household utensils or knives for field dressing.
If you do, they will become contaminated and you should never use them again for household purposes, no matter how much you wash them.
To do the necessary testing, the wildlife authorities will need the animal’s lymph nodes. Be extremely careful as you retrieve these, wearing gloves and making sure there is no contact with your skin.
Put the nodes in a plastic bag and seal it securely. Make sure to double bag it and make sure no one else touches it.
Bring the sample directly to the CWD testing facilities in your region.
As soon as it occurs to you that the deer may have CWD (for example, if there is CWD in deer populations in your area), you should decide to have it tested before eating it.
Symptoms of CWD in Humans
There has never been a case of a human catching CWD. However, scientists don’t know yet whether it’s possible.
There is a chance that a human may one day catch this from eating infected meat, and that is why you should never take a chance and eat deer meat that you think may be infected.
CWD is a serious disease with devastating symptoms in deer. It always leads to death.
What is Mad Cow Disease?
Like CWD, Mad Cow Disease (BSE, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy) is a prion disease. Maybe you have heard that people in the past have contracted this.
While this isn’t strictly true, something equally devastating did happen.
The only time there has been an effect from contact with this disease has been when people have developed a human variant of the disease. Unfortunately, this condition leads to death.
Should You Get Your Deer Meat Commercially Processed?
While it’s easier to have deer meat commercially processed rather than trying to do all the butchering yourself, there are certain risks involved.
For example, some commercial processors will mix deer from different hunters all in one process. This is bad news for you, as if any of the other hunters’ deer have CWD, it may contaminate the meat that you will get back and eat.
If you want to go the commercial processor route, confirm with the company you choose that they don’t mix together deer from different hunters.
Verify that your deer will be processed completely on its own, after sanitizing the equipment.
Verify that the facility you choose has all relevant regulatory and government licensing, practices meticulous hygiene, and is well-known in the hunting community.
Final Thoughts: What Does CWD Look Like in Deer Meat?
CWD (chronic wasting disease) is a dangerous deer disease found in many states across the country. Find out whether this disease has been recorded in your area before hunting.
While there’s never been a case of a human catching CWD, it’s not impossible.
Be extremely careful and use good hygiene during field dressing. You should also have your venison tested.