Variants of a fatal brain disease are on the rise in both deer and humans across the country and especially in Wisconsin, leaving some worrying that the deer version, called chronic wasting disease, may be spreading to people. And while a cross-species jump to humans has yet to be observed, disease testing by both researchers and deer hunters is down, while researchers in Canada were recently able to infect macaque monkeys by feeding them meat from deer that tested positive for chronic wasting disease, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "While no human cases of CWD have been reported to date, the new study findings raise concerns that people who hunt or consume meat from infected animals could be at risk for CWD infection," a CDC spokesperson says.
The human version, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, is also closely related to the form of mad cow disease that infects humans. All three attack the brain and are typically fatal within a year. Across the US, cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob nearly doubled from 260 in 2002 to 481 in 2015, while 13 cases have been recorded in Wisconsin alone in two of the past four years—a 117% increase over the six cases recorded when CWD was first found in deer in 2002. Experts say this could simply be due to increased awareness and aging populations. In Mississippi, a federal judge has asked for CWD testing after a tornado ripped open an illegal holding enclosure of deer from Texas, possibly introducing the disease to the local population, reports the Clarion-Ledger. (A deadly deer tick disease does infect humans.)