According to a new U.S. Geological Survey study, the long-term impacts of the chronic wasting disease (CWD) epidemic in North American deer, elk and moose will depend on how the disease persists in the environment.
The study used computer simulations to make predictions about future deer herds. CWD is caused by unusual, infectious proteins called prions; it is a fatal neurological disease of deer, elk and moose.
The disease is related to "mad cow" disease, a cattle disease that has infected humans. However, there is no evidence that CWD has infected humans. Prions can be transmitted directly through animal-to-animal contact, and indirectly through animals that come into contact with infected feces, urine and carcasses.
CWD has been detected in 19 states and two Canadian provinces. Disease-causing prions, responsible for some incurable neurological diseases of people and other diseases in animals, are notoriously difficult to decontaminate or kill. Prions are not killed by most detergents, cooking, freezing, or by autoclaving, a method used to sterilize medical instruments.
The USGS study, Modeling Routes of Chronic Wasting Disease Transmission: Environmental Prion Persistence Promotes Deer Population Decline and Extinction, is available from the public accesses journal PLoS ONE, online.
source: USGS press release