Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal disease of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) caused by transmissible protease-resistant prions. Since the discovery of CWD in southern Wisconsin in 2001, more than 20,000 deer have been removed from a >2,500-km2 disease eradication zone surrounding the three initial cases. Nearly all deer removed were tested for CWD infection and sex, age, and harvest location were recorded. Our analysis used data from a 310-km2 core study area where disease prevalence was higher than surrounding areas. We found no difference in harvest rates between CWD infected and noninfected deer. Our results show that the probability of infection increased with age and that adult males were more likely to be infected than adult females. Six fawns tested positive for CWD, five fawns from the core study area, including the youngest (5 months) free-ranging cervid to test positive. The increase in male prevalence with age is nearly twice the increase found in females. We concluded that CWD is not randomly distributed among deer and that differential transmission among sex and age classes is likely driving the observed patterns in disease prevalence. We discuss alternative hypotheses for CWD transmission and spread and, in addition, discuss several possible nonlinear relationships between prevalence and age. Understanding CWD transmission in free-ranging cervid populations will be essential to the development of strategies to manage this disease in areas where CWD is found, as well as for surveillance strategies in areas where CWD threatens to spread.
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Vol. 70 • No. 2