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Lab Spotlight: NWRC - Deer, Dust, and Disease Research

fawn CWD Terry Spraker s e1400863193740


Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological prion disease that affects deer, elk and moose, but is not known to naturally infect other species of wildlife (including predators and scavengers), livestock, or humans. Determining all potential CWD transmission routes in wild animals is important for devising disease control and prevention methods. Realized and perceived CWD threats have significant implications for federal and state wildlife management agencies, domestic deer and elk farmers, hunters, businesses, and economies reliant on deer and elk. For instance, landowners have spent much time and effort removing top soil in captive deer and elk farm facilities in an effort to prevent indirect CWD transmission to reintroduced herds. However, this technique has been unsuccessful, possibly because deer, elk, and moose inhale CWD prions from dirt and dust surrounding the farm.

To determine whether CWD can be transmitted from inhaling contaminated dust, USDA National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) researchers inoculated the nasal passages of 14 white-tailed deer with a mixture of either CWD-positive or CWD-negative brain homogenate and clay dust. Samples were collected from the deer for immunohistochemistry analysis. Results showed that clay dust is an efficient carrier of CWD. Prion-positive tissues were observed in deer as early as 98 days after the last inoculation. These observations support the hypothesis that the intranasal route is a viable route of infection and that dust, a natural means of exposure, is capable of delivering the infected material intranasally.

In this photo by Terry Spraker, you can see the NWRC researchers inoculating deer nasal passages with CWD-positive clay mixture.

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