Scientists are concerned 'zombie deer' disease could spread to humans

Expert spoke to lawmakers in Minnesota last week

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Experts told lawmakers at a state Capitol that chronic wasting disease should be treated as a public health issue and said human cases are likely to be “documented in the years ahead.”

The disease, sometimes referred to as CWD, causes infected animals to stumble around, drool and get aggressive toward humans they once feared. It's been called "zombie deer" disease because once infected, the deer are known to lose weight and become listless, among other strange behaviors. It's been said that it's impossible for hunters to tell when a deer has CWD. The neurological illness affects white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose.

The spookiest thing about it though, isn’t the animals' resemblance to zombies -- it’s the fact that it’s an incurable prion disease, the website Popular Science said in a recent report. That means it's progressive and neurodegenerative.

The human link

To be clear, there haven't been any reported cases of chronic wasting disease in humans, said Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Still, Osterholm said, it's something to be cautious about, moving forward. Scientists don't want the disease to spread to or affect people, he said at the Minnesota state Capitol last week.

"It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption (of) contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead," said Osterholm in comments published by USA Today. "It’s possible the number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events."

CWD is deadly and has affected the deer population in at least 24 states and two Canadian provinces (scroll to the bottom for a full list).

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