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J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2009;72(17-18):1018-24. doi: 10.1080/15287390903084249.

Surveillance for transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in scavengers of white-tailed deer carcasses in the chronic wasting disease area of Wisconsin.

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Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a class of neurodegenerative transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) occurring in cervids, is found in a number of states and provinces across North America. Misfolded prions, the infectious agents of CWD, are deposited in the environment via carcass remains and excreta, and pose a threat of cross-species transmission. In this study tissues were tested from 812 representative mammalian scavengers, collected in the CWD-affected area of Wisconsin, for TSE infection using the IDEXX HerdChek enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Only four of the collected mammals tested positive using the ELISA, but these were negative when tested by Western blot. While our sample sizes permitted high probabilities of detecting TSE assuming 1% population prevalence in several common scavengers (93%, 87%, and 87% for raccoons, opossums, and coyotes, respectively), insufficient sample sizes for other species precluded similar conclusions. One cannot rule out successful cross-species TSE transmission to scavengers, but the results suggest that such transmission is not frequent in the CWD-affected area of Wisconsin. The need for further surveillance of scavenger species, especially those known to be susceptible to TSE (e.g., cat, American mink, raccoon), is highlighted in both a field and laboratory setting.

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