It is unknown if chronic wasting disease (CWD) can infect humans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). There have been no known cases of CWD in humans. However, another prion disease, mad cow disease, is believed to have been transmitted from beef cattle to humans in the U.K., and in 2017, a Canadian study reported that lab monkeys contracted CWD after being fed infected meat. “If CWD could spread to people, it would most likely be through eating of infected deer and elk,” the CDC reports. The federal agency now recommends that hunters in areas with CWD “strongly consider” having animals tested for CWD before eating venison and that they not eat meat from CWD-infected animals.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends that hunters in CWD-affected areas have deer tested for CWD before consuming the meat. The Minnesota DNR recommends that citizens make an informed decision for themselves.
“The bottom line is, it really gets into an individual’s comfort level and risk level approach,” Minnesota DNR spokesman Harland Hiemstra stated. No one can say with absolute certainty that eating venison from CWD-affected areas is safe, he said. “At the same time, no one can say there is no risk when you get in your car and drive home today,” Hiemstra pointed out. He reminded citizens that there have been no documented cases of humans catching CWD. “There is an element of risk,” he stated. However, there is also a risk that hunters might get in a firearms accident or fall out of a tree stand. “People should be informed and make their own decision about this,” Hiemstra said.
Lymph node tests, not blood tests, are the ‘gold standard’
State officials recommend that hunters who do want to have their deer tested submit lymph node samples to state authorities or another certified sample collector. While some companies offer blood tests for CWD, DNR experts in both Minnesota and Wisconsin advised that the accuracy of blood tests have not been verified by federal authorities and citizens should stick with lymph node tests.
“If there’s a blood test out there, it’s not validated. It’s not recognized as being an official test,” Wisconsin DNR Wildlife Health Section Chief Tami Ryan stated. “The gold standard is the lymph node test.”
“I have seen advertisements for a blood test for CWD, but what I can say for sure is those blood tests have not been validated by the USDA, so their efficacy is unknown,” Minnesota DNR Wildlife Health Program Research Scientist Chris Jennelle stated. “We wouldn’t suggest using them as a formal way to test your deer,” he added.
Blood tests would be nice, Ryan acknowledged. Lymph node sampling requires submitting a deer’s entire head and neck or — for hunters who want to keep a trophy — having a certified taxidermist or other sample collector remove the lymph nodes with the head intact. “We may get there someday but we’re not there yet,” she stated.