Fears Zombie Deer Disease Could Spread To Humans

It's feared humans could soon contract a deadly disease which has infected wild deer, elk and moose.

The chronic wasting disease -- or CWD has been detected in 24 US states and two Canadian provinces.  Symptoms include drooling, stumbling, aggression and listlessness.

"We are in an unknown territory situation," Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told 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," he said. "It's possible the number of human cases will be substantial, and will not be isolated events."

The big issue here is that it's an incurable prion disease, similar to mad cow, which jumped to humans in the UK in the 1980s and 90s, killing close to 160 people.

In deer, CWD is spread through bodily fluids, tissue, drinking water and food, but eating contaminated deer meat is the most likely way for humans to contract the disease.

Roughly 7,000 - 15,000 infected animals are eaten each year, that number could jump by 20 percent annually, according to the Alliance for Public Wildlife.

Buck runs after doe IMAGE: David C Stephens via Getty

Many state regulations are in place to help prevent humans from consuming infected meat.

For example, North Carolina has employed strict processing and packaging regulations, while Indiana has stepped up it's monitoring efforts.

But lawmakers are being urged to do more and treat the disease as a public health issue.

IMAGE: Samantha French via Getty

"If Stephen King could write an infectious disease novel, he'd write it about prions," Osterholm said. "If you put this into a meat processing plant ... this is kind of a worst-case nightmare."

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"People have to understand the significance of this. We can't wait until we have the first cases coming," he said.