April 29, 2002 The Associated PressScientists are investigating whether eating meat from deer infected with chronic wasting disease can cause deadly brain illness in people.
"We really don't know," said Piero Antuono, a professor of neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin who has autopsied the brains of people with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. A variant form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has been linked to an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, in cattle herds in Europe.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy has been tied to the deaths of more than 100 people since 1995.
"You wonder if there is a connection," Antuono said. "This is very reminiscent of the BSE story in England in 1986 and '87 when we didn't know."
In October 2001, a study in the journal Archives of Neurology reported on the cases of three people who contracted CJD and who also had been deer hunters or had regularly eaten venison.
The three individuals, who were from Maine, Oklahoma and Utah, all were under the age of 30 and came down with the disease between 1997 and 2000.
"There isn't any hard data, but what data there is suggests that humans may be vulnerable," Michael Hansen, a biologist and senior research scientist with the Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.