The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about the spread of a brain-wasting deer disease known as CWD after findings in a recent study suggest it could potentially infect humans. 

While Chronic Wasting Disease has been on the landscape for decades, it is spreading. 

MORE: TWRA: Burial site for CWD infected deer is short term solution

“In the past couple decades, it’s been found in 24 states in the country in free-ranging animals,” explains CDC Epidemiologist Dr. Ryan Maddox. “When its found in new areas that means more people are potentially exposed.”

Officials just discovered the disease in Tennessee in the past few months, and 183 deer have already tested positive for the prion disease.

In the past, Maddox explains, other animal prion diseases like BSE or “mad cow disease” have been transmitted to humans. That disease, now known as Variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease, has since killed more than 200 people, mostly in the United Kingdom.

“So we do have evidence of an animal prion disease transmitting to humans,” Maddox says. 

A recent scientific study carries the most substantial evidence CWD could also spread to humans.

“That study does have important implications because at least the preliminary findings that have been shared did show that Chronic Wasting Disease could spread to macaques, which are genetically close to humans,”  he explains. 

Maddox says that study, as well as many others, is ongoing, and the CDC is calling research on CWD a top priority.

“We also are conducting studies to identify if any prion diseases are happening at a higher rate in people who may be at an increased risk for being exposed to affected deer and elk meat,” Maddox says. 

While there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people,  officials from the CDC, Tennessee Wildlife & Resource Agency and Vanderbilt doctors have all expressed concern that CWD could — and may be — transmitting to humans.

That’s why they all advise you to take precautions before eating meat from animals that could be infected. For more information, click here.