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Ecol Appl. 2006 Dec;16(6):2208-14.

Dynamics of prion disease transmission in mule deer.

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  • 1Colorado Division of Wildlife, Wildlife Research Center, 317 West Prospect Road, Fort Collins 80526, USA.


Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a contagious prion disease of the deer family, has the potential to severely harm deer populations and disrupt ecosystems where deer occur in abundance. Consequently, understanding the dynamics of this emerging infectious disease, and particularly the dynamics of its transmission, has emerged as an important challenge for contemporary ecologists and wildlife managers. Although CWD is contagious among deer, the relative importance of pathways for its transmission remains unclear. We developed seven competing models, and then used data from two CWD outbreaks in captive mule deer and model selection to compare them. We found that models portraying indirect transmission through the environment had 3.8 times more support in the data than models representing transmission by direct contact between infected and susceptible deer. Model-averaged estimates of the basic reproductive number (R0) were 1.3 or greater, indicating likely local persistence of CWD in natural populations under conditions resembling those we studied. Our findings demonstrate the apparent importance of indirect, environmental transmission in CWD and the challenges this presents for controlling the disease.

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