Despite Online Hype, Nobody In Wyoming Has Caught ‘Zombie Deer Disease’

“Zombie deer disease” is a hyped-up term for chronic wasting disease, which has infected some Wyoming wildlife herds. And despite recent hyped-up reports about humans catching it and turning into zombies, nobody in Wyoming has.

Mark Heinz

April 24, 20244 min read

A Wyoming mule deer buck and its harem.
A Wyoming mule deer buck and its harem. (M. Leonard via

Contrary to some sensational viral reports, it’s highly unlikely that people in Wyoming will start dropping dead from chronic wasting disease.

The truth is much less extreme.

A recent report in the Neurology Journals note that “two hunters from the same lodge” in an undisclosed location had died within a short time of each other in 2022 of a nervous system disorder called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

One of the men was age 72, according to the report. The other man’s age wasn’t given, but CJD usually impacts older people.

And it so happened that they hunted in an area known for high rates of chronic wasting disease (CWD) among its deer. The hunters had both eaten lots of deer meat, so there could have possibly been a connection between the CWD in deer and the CJD in the men.

The Wyoming Department of Health reports no human cases of CWD.

CWD is caused by prions, or malformed proteins, and is always fatal in members of the deer family, such as mule deer, whitetail deer and elk.

Some pulpy media outlets have taken to calling CWD “zombie deer disease,” because some of the late-stage symptoms in wildlife include lethargy, disorientation and drooling.

Thus, hyped-up reports have gone viral that zombie deer disease had jumped to humans, and that a zombie apocalypse might be imminent.

No Solid Evidence

However, more sober reports began countering that narrative.

As with past instances of CJD deaths in places where people were eating venison likely infected with CWD, there was some speculation that there could be some connection.

And CWD possibly jumping to humans has been an ongoing concern. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other experts recommend against eating meat from animals that test positive for CWD.

However, there was no solid evidence linking the men’s deaths to having eating CWD-infected meat, according to later reports.

That remains that case, Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti told Cowboy State Daily.

“At this time, there has been no proven transmission of CWD to humans. We recommend following current guidance of not eating animals that test positive for CWD,” she said.

Game and Fish spokeswoman Breanna Ball said that likewise, her agency is urging reasonable caution, not existential panic.

“While the chance of CWD being transmitted from cervids to humans is low, it is not impossible and people should limit their exposure to prions,” she said. “People should follow the recommendations from the CDC and the World Health Organization of not consuming CWD-positive animals.”

Testing Efforts Continue

Game and Fish has ramped up CWD detection in recent years. The agency encourages hunters in some parts of Wyoming to submit tissue samples from their kills at game check stations for testing.

CWD has been present in some Wyoming deer herds for many years, and has lately started to show up more frequently in elk. Some critics of elk feeding grounds in western Wyoming claim that elk crowding into the feed grounds during the winter has increased infections in that species.

According to Game and Fish information about CWD, the disease might not be evident in animals with early stage infections.

“Early in the disease, animals may show no clinical signs,” the agency reports. “Later, affected animals show progressive weight loss, reluctance to move, excessive salivation, droopy ears, increased drinking and urinating, lethargy and death.

“Animals will test positive for the disease long before these clinical signs appear and the majority of CWD-positive animals that are harvested appear completely normal and healthy.”

Mark Heinz can be reached at

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter