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Did Wisconsin Hunters Die From Deer Brain Disease?

MADISON, Wis. — The deaths of three Wisconsin hunters in the 1990s who shared a taste for wild game are being investigated for any connection to a fatal brain disease afflicting the state's deer herd, health authorities said Wednesday.

Scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have agreed to help Wisconsin investigate the deaths, two of which were from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare disorder that has been tied in Europe to eating meat from cattle infected with mad cow disease.

The other man died from Pick's disease, a more common brain disease.

The autopsy records of the three men, who all shared a love of the outdoors and ate wild game, are being reviewed by federal and state investigators, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control said.

Wisconsin and eight other U.S. states, mostly in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions, have reported cases of chronic wasting disease in deer and elk herds, a similar ailment to mad cow disease, which is formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Believed caused by misshapen proteins called prions, the diseases create holes in the animals' brains and eventually kill them.

Chronic wasting disease has not been shown to infect humans or cattle, but the World Health Organization has advised against eating venison or any part of an animal showing signs of the disease. The warning has raised concerns about venison stored in home freezers across Wisconsin, a prime state for deer hunting that generates roughly $1.5 billion annually.

The state plans to eradicate the deer herd from an area where more than a dozen animals have tested positive for the disease and then test the carcasses.

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