From January 1996 through April 1997, the geographic distribution, etiology, demographics, seasonality, and prevalence of an intracranial abscessation/suppurative meningoencephalitits syndrome in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) were evaluated by surveying wildlife disease diagnostic laboratories and by examining both natural mortality and hunter-harvested deer skulls from North America. Intracranial abscesses were diagnosed as the cause of death or illness in 97 of nearly 4,500 (2.2%) white-tailed deer examined from 12 states and four Canadian provinces by the diagnostic laboratories. The bacterium Arcanobacterium pyogenes was isolated from 61% of cases; 18 other genera of bacteria also were isolated. The disease was strongly gender-biased (P < 0.01) with 87% of cases occurring in males, and the overall prevalence among males was 4.9%. Cases were most common among antlered males (≥1 yr) with few cases among male fawns. Among antlered males, cases were seasonal, primarily occurring from September through April. Four hundred eighteen skulls from deer found dead in the field were examined from southeastern USA, and of the 119 used for further evaluation, 9% had characteristic lesions. Skulls from hunter-harvested males in the southeastern USA had a lesion prevalence of 1.4%. The similarity of disease prevalence among male deer found dead in the field (9.0%) and deer examined as southeastern diagnostic laboratory cases (8.4%) suggests that this disease accounts for slightly <10% of the natural mortality for yearling and adult male white-tailed deer in the southeastern region. The strong bias for occurrence among males suggests this disease may affect quality deer management strategies.
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Vol. 37 • No. 4