You may want to put away that hunting gear if you're looking into a trip to go hunting in Colorado. Health professionals are deeply concerned that a recent virus which has been ravaging the local deer, elk and moose population in Colorado could transfer to humans. They suspect that local hunters who are cooking and eating infected meat are at major risk of infection from the disease.
The virus is known officially as Chronic Wasting Disease and shares a lot of similarities with Mad Cow disease, but unofficially it’s known as the Zombie Deer Virus because of how it affects the animals. Deer infected with the disease undergo a transformation where their brains waste and turn into a strange spongey material, robbing the deer of whatever intelligence it had to begin with. Over time the deer become thinner until it appears gaunt and on the verge of starvation, meanwhile it stops responding to most stimuli.
This means the deer simply wander around, unafraid of cars, hunters, and predators, barely reacting to anything around them.
So you can see why it gets called the Zombie Deer Virus.
Until now there have been no human cases but a recent study in Canada confirmed that it is indeed possible that the virus could infect humans. And deer in the early stages of the infection look almost indistinguishable from healthy animals, so it’s quite feasible that a hunter could shoot, cook and kill an infected animal.
One hunter told reporters,
“The deer was a big healthy animal and there was a really low percentage [of CWD] in the area. It's just not something I worry about.”
However specialists say that kind of thinking is “absolutely wrong”, saying that not all infected look infected and that it takes a deer two to three years before it starts to look skinny and behave in a zombie-like way.
So how can one avoid the issue? The CDC tells us,
“If you are hunting in an area where CWD is found, have your animal tested. If it comes back positive, don't eat the meat.”