Two Hunters May Be First Americans To Die From Zombie Deer Disease

By Bill Galluccio

April 19, 2024

White Tailed Deer foraging in beautiful light at dusk
Photo: Rabbitti / iStock / Getty Images

A pair of hunters from Wyoming are believed to be the first Americans to die from "zombie deer" disease. The fatal disease, formally known as chronic wasting disease, leaves infected deer confused, aggressive, and lethargic and has been found in dozens of states.

Officials are worried as the disease spreads and have warned that it could spread to humans.

New research suggests that the disease has already crossed species lines after a pair of hunters died in 2022. The study, which was published in the scientific journal Neurology, said the two men ate infected venison and became ill.

One of the men, who was 72, suffered from "rapid-onset confusion and aggression" and died within a month. His friend also had similar symptoms before he died.

The cause of death was listed as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is similar to chronic wasting disease, leaving the researchers to believe that both men were actually infected with chronic wasting disease from infected deer meat.

The researchers wrote, "The patient's history, including a similar case in his social group, suggests a possible novel animal-to-human transmission of CWD."

"Clusters of sporadic CJD cases may occur in regions with CWD-confirmed deer populations, hinting at potential cross-species prion transmission. Surveillance and further research are essential to better understand this possible association," they added.

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