You can’t even trust Bambi anymore. Doug Powell, from Barfblog, emailed me the story of a young girl who suffered HUS after contracting an E. coli infection from handling deer meat.

Beverly said the only other thing she could think of was that her husband, Red, had shot a deer the Friday after Thanksgiving. She helped him skin it and prepare bigger cuts to send off to a local butcher, but Red cut the tenderloin himself. "April was helping her daddy with the tenderloins," Beverly recalled. April placed the pieces of meat into freezer bags, handling the meat with her hands.

Here is the interesting part:

"Deer harbor infection – it’s estimated that 17 percent of the whitetail population harbors E. coli," she said, and it appears they harbor a pretty nasty strain of it. The infection grows in the digestive system. But in the process of gutting and cleaning a deer carcass, it is easy to nick the bowels and spill the infected fluids.

E. coli O157:H7 was first recognized as a pathogen as a result of an outbreak of unusual gastrointestinal illness in 1982. The outbreak was traced to contaminated hamburgers, and the illness was similar to other incidents in the United States and Japan. The etiologic agent of the illness was identified as a rare O157:H7 serotype of Escherichia coli in 1983. This serotype had only been isolated once before, from a sick patient in 1975.

E. coli O157:H7 has jumped from cows to Bambi over the last 30 years or so. The fact that E. coli O157:H7 (and other emerging pathogens) have become such a part of the current food environment has to be taken into account in making food safety policy decisions. Comments like, “I used to drink raw milk or eat raw hamburger when I was a kid” are misplaced in light of the reality of the present existence of these pathogens. Beliefs that “grass-fed” meat (wonder what Bambie’s last meal was?) or “locally grown” or “raw” food is inherently safer have to take into account the present reality of these very nasty bugs.

  • Read the links to the following scientific articles on prevalence of E. coli 0157 in white-tailed deer. Go to Room/press_room_research.htn#deer. None of these studies indicated rates of infected deer above 3%. Where did this lady get the 17% figure??
    E. coli O157 and Salmonella spp. in White-tailed Deer and Livestock
    Abstract- Escherichia coli O157 and Salmonella spp. are among the leading causes of food-borne illness in the United Sates and bacteria have been isolated from numerous ruminant animal sources. The object of this study was to assess the incidence of E. coli O157 and Salmonella spp. in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and livestock simultaneously grazing the same rangeland. Escherichia coli O157 was found in 1.25% of cattle, 1.22% of sheep, and 5.00% of water all from samples taken in September; however, no E. coli O157 was found in other sampled months or any species. Salmonella spp. were found in the highest quantities in deer and sheep, 7.69% and 7.32%, respectively. Salmonella spp. were also found in sampled water troughs, goats, and cattle (5.00%, 3.70%, and 1.25%, respectively). Further research examining pathogen distribution is needed to determine if white tailed deer are a natural reservoir for these bacteria.
    Prevalence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in White-tailed Deer from Louisiana
    ABSTRACT- Escherichia coli O157:H7 (EC O157) is an important zoonosis. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) have been implicated in transmission of this bacterium to humans and have been suggested as reservoirs that might affect carriage in cattle populations. Our study objectives were to estimate prevalence of EC O157 in feces of hunter-harvested deer and to describe fecal shedding patterns in a captive herd sampled over 1 yr. Prevalence of EC O157 in hunter-harvested deer was 0.3% (n=338). In August 2001, EC O157 was detected in one of 55 deer (1.8%) from the captive herd. Prevalence over the 1-yr period was 0.4% (n=226). Escherichia coli O157:H7 was rarely isolated from hunter-harvested deer during the winter. We could not describe a seasonal shedding pattern based on one positive sample in the captive herd. These data do not support a prominent role of deer as a reservoir for EC O157 for cattle or humans.
    Prevalence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in White-tailed Deer Sharing Rangeland with Cattle
    Abstract- To determine the prevalence of fecal shedding of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) with access to cattle pastures. DESIGN: Survey study. Sample Population: 212 fecal samples from free ranging white-tailed deer. Procedure: Fresh feces were collected on multiple pastures from 2 farms in north central Kansas between September 1997 and April 1998. Escherichia coli O157:H7 was identified by bacterial culture and DNA-based methods. Results: Escherichia coli O157:H7 was identified in 2.4% (5/212) of white-tailed deer fecal samples. Conclusions and Clinical Relevance: There is considerable interest in the beef industry in on-farm control of E coli O157:H7 to reduce the risk of this pathogen entering the human food chain. Results of our study suggest that the design of programs for E coli O157:H7 control in domestic livestock on pasture will need to account for fecal shedding in free-ranging deer. In addition, the results have implications for hunters, people consuming venison, and deer-farming enterprises.