A deadly disease that has ravaged deer across 24 states in the US could one day spread to humans, an expert has warned.
It had previously been thought that so-called zombie deer disease could not pass to people, unlike the Mad Cow Disease outbreak in the 1980s and 90s.
However, an expert has now claimed that cases of humans infected with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) could arise in coming years.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, made the warning to state lawmakers last week.
He said: "It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption with contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead."
"It's possible the number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events."
He added: "It's like a throw at the genetic roulette table."
"If Stephen King could write an infectious disease novel, he'd write it about prions."
CWD is a kind of illness known as a prion disease and spreads through deer in contaminated bodily fluid, drinking water and food.
The disease attacks the infected deer's brains and spinal cord tissue causing prion protein cells to burst.
During his address, reported by USA Today, Osterholm also compared the threat to that posed by Mad Cow Disease that killed 156 people in the UK in the 1990s.
There are no known human cases of CWD, after it was first spotted in wild animals 40 years ago and captive deer in the late 1960s.
However, studies have shown it can be transmitted to animals other than deer, including primates.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US said the most likely way it could be spread to people is through contaminated meat.
Around 7,000 to 16,000 animals in the US are infected with CWD each year.
Many state regulations are in place preventing people eating infected meat.