Contaminated Meat: Fact and Fiction

I love fiction that blurs the lines of reality. That’s why I’m drawn to authors like Michael Crichton who do a great job of writing not only great fiction, but fiction that is grounded in the “could be”.

This love often bleeds into how I write. I love to research and learn and really dig into subjects and then write about their speculative future. I am constantly inspired by how unreal the real world often seems. The term “stranger than fiction” comes to mind.

That same idea ran through my head almost two years ago when I first heard about Chronic Wasting Disease.

I don’t like where this is going.

I don’t like where this is going.

Chronic Wasting Disease

It was a casual Sunday lunch. A family member told me about this disease that could make deer hunting a thing of the past. The disease is fascinating, infecting mostly deer, though hogs can be carriers. But it is equal parts mysterious in that we don’t know how it could affect humans.

My mind ran wild.

You see, Chronic Wasting Disease is a prion disease, which means proteins in the brain fold in abnormal ways that lead to brain damage, loss of neural function, and eventually death. Through the process of this disease effectively rendering the brain useless, the neural processes end up doing some weird things. So naturally, my imagination went to zombies.

What If?

I started to imagine what might happen if the disease spread to people, say, from hunting. What might that look like? What would a zombie deer outbreak really mean?

Everyone in the south hunts. Well, almost everyone. So I imagine a world in which the affected southern states quickly degenerate into chaos as zombies take hold and the government institutes a quarantine. The long incubation periods mean the disease can spread considerably before being noticed.

Enter, Venison.

I wanted to explore a world after CWD has struck. Two friends of high school age stuck in the backwoods of Oklahoma, avoiding zombies and crazy folk, just looking for somewhere safe to land. It’s a fun story, but fiction, right?

Maybe.

Recently, interest in Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, has taken a massive uptick on the heels of new information. CWD has spread wildly, now found in deer populations of over 20 states. Still little is known about the disease, however, so we need to study it. The major concern is whether it can spread to humans through consumption of infecting meat. The answer from the scientific community is a resounding maybe.

Presumably just before posing for an awkward picture on the CDC front lawn. See, they’re baffled.

Presumably just before posing for an awkward picture on the CDC front lawn. See, they’re baffled.

Some researchers do think it likely that we will see infected humans in the coming years, which is a scary prospect. In fact, Michael Osterholm from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota said, "If Stephen King could write an infectious disease novel, he would write about prions like this."

I’m no Stephen King, but I gave it my best shot.

So far, humans are in the clear. But that could change any season. Let’s just hope this fear stays firmly in the realm of fiction.