An infectious disease that can kill deer has been found in 24 states, adding to experts' fear that the disease could spread to humans.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been found in wild deer, elk and moose in 24 states and two Canadian provinces by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as of January, according to USA Today.
"It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption with contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead," Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said at a hearing before Minnesota lawmakers. "It’s possible the number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events."
The CDC has not reported any cases of the disease being found in humans. The center warns the disease could be spread to humans by eating infected deer meet.
The disease affects deers' brains and spinal cords, leading it to be dubbed the “zombie” deer disease.
Most reported cases of the disease found in deer have been in the American West near the Rockies as well as in the Upper Midwest region in states like Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
”Once CWD is established in an area, the risk can remain for a long time in the environment. The affected areas are likely to continue to expand," the states on its website.
While some state regulations help curb humans from eating the infected meat, Osterholm said more oversight is needed.
"People have to understand the significance of this. We can't wait until we have the first cases coming," he told lawmakers, noting that if infected meat made its way into a processing plant, it would be the “worst case nightmare.”