Transmission of chronic wasting disease in Wisconsin white-tailed deer: Implications for disease spread and management

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Few studies have evaluated the rate of infection or mode of transmission for wildlife diseases, and the implications of alternative management strategies. We used hunter harvest data from 2002 to 2013 to investigate chronic wasting disease (CWD) infection rate and transmission modes, and address how alternative management approaches affect disease dynamics in a Wisconsin white-tailed deer population. Uncertainty regarding demographic impacts of CWD on cervid populations, human and domestic animal health concerns, and potential economic consequences underscore the need for strategies to control CWD distribution and prevalence. Using maximum-likelihood methods to evaluate alternative multi-state deterministic models of CWD transmission, harvest data strongly supports a frequency-dependent transmission structure with sex-specific infection rates that are two times higher in males than females. As transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are an important and difficult-to-study class of diseases with major economic and ecological implications, our work supports the hypothesis of frequency-dependent transmission in wild deer at a broad spatial scale and indicates that effective harvest management can be implemented to control CWD prevalence. Specifically, we show that harvest focused on the greater-affected sex (males) can result in stable population dynamics and control of CWD within the next 50 years, given the constraints of the model. We also provide a quantitative estimate of geographic disease spread in southern Wisconsin, validating qualitative assessments that CWD spreads relatively slowly. Given increased discovery and distribution of CWD throughout North America, insights from our study are valuable to management agencies and to the general public concerned about the impacts of CWD on white-tailed deer populations.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Transmission of chronic wasting disease in Wisconsin white-tailed deer: Implications for disease spread and management
Series title PLoS ONE
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0091043
Volume 9
Issue 3
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher PLOS
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Leetown
Description e91043; 12 p.
First page 1
Last page 12
Country United States
State Wisconsin
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