If CWD could spread to people, it would most likely be through eating of infected deer and elk. In a 2006-2007 CDC surveyExternal of U.S. residents, nearly 20 percent of those surveyed said they had hunted deer or elk and more than two-thirds said they had eaten venison or elk meat. However, to date, there is no strong evidence for the occurrence of CWD in people, and it is not known if people can get infected with CWD prions.
Hunters must consider many factors when determining whether to eat meat from deer and elk harvested from areas with CWD, including the level of risk they are willing to accept. Hunters harvesting wild deer and elk from areas with reported CWD should check state wildlife and public health guidance to see whether testing of animals is recommended or required in a given state or region. In areas where CWD is known to be present, CDC recommends that hunters strongly consider having those animals tested before eating the meat.
Tests for CWD are monitoring tools that some state wildlife officials use to look at the rates of CWD in certain animal populations. Testing may not be available in every state, and states may use these tests in different ways. A negative test result does not guarantee that an individual animal is not infected with CWD, but it does make it considerably less likely and may reduce your risk of exposure to CWD.
To be as safe as possible and decrease their potential risk of exposure to CWD, hunters should take the following steps when hunting in areas with CWD:
- Do not shoot, handle or eat meat from deer and elk that look sick or are acting strangely or are found dead (road-kill).
- When field-dressing a deer:
- Wear latex or rubber gloves when dressing the animal or handling the meat.
- Minimize how much you handle the organs of the animal, particularly the brain or spinal cord tissues.
- Do not use household knives or other kitchen utensils for field dressing.
- Check state wildlife and public health guidance to see whether testing of animals is recommended or required. Recommendations vary by state, but information about testing is available from many state wildlife agencies.
- Strongly consider having the deer or elk tested for CWD before you eat the meat.
- If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, consider asking that your animal be processed individually to avoid mixing meat from multiple animals.
- If your animal tests positive for CWD, do not eat meat from that animal.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regulates commercially farmed deer and elk. The agency operates a national CWD herd certification programExternal. As part of the voluntary program, states and individual herd owners agree to meet requirements meant to decrease the risk of CWD in their herds. Privately owned herds that do not participate in the herd certification program may be at increased risk for CWD.