• U.S.

Deadly Feast: Can Venison Kill You?

2 minute read
Christine Gorman

By all accounts, the feasts that Wayne Waterhouse threw at his cabin overlooking Wisconsin’s Brule River were fabulous. Every fall, Waterhouse would serve the bounty of his most recent hunting trips–heaping dishes of moose, elk and deer. But in 1993 Waterhouse died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a brain disorder that can be triggered by mad-cow disease, and within six years, two of his fellow feastgoers had also died of rare brain disorders. Was the game they ate to blame? That’s what Wisconsin health authorities–and now the Centers for Disease Control–want to know.

State investigators, who in mid-July were tipped off to the eerie coincidence, caution that it is too early to come to any conclusions. The fear, however, is that chronic wasting disease, a mad cow-like illness that affects wild game, may have jumped the so-called species barrier. The fatal disease, which makes animals listless, has been endemic in Colorado herds for decades and was spotted in Wisconsin deer in February. Particularly worrisome is the fact that the illness is caused by infectious agents called prions that are not destroyed by cooking.

“We know that incubation for prion disorders is typically nine to 10 years,” says Jeffrey Davis, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer and state epidemiologist. “We’re talking about events that may have occurred in the early 1980s.”

Even if investigators find a link between the Wisconsin outdoorsmen and the game they ate, it won’t necessarily lead to a mad cow-type epidemic. Americans, after all, eat a lot more hamburger than they do venison.

–By Christine Gorman. Reported by Karen Bouffard/Lansing

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