From July 1998 through October 2002, radiometric culture (ileocecal lymph node, mesenteric lymph node, and feces) and serologic testing by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) were used to survey white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) from the southeastern United States for infection by Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (Mptb), the causative agent of paratuberculosis (Johne's disease). Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis was isolated from the ileocecal lymph node of one of 313 deer (0.3%) originating from 63 populations in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia (USA). Six deer (2%), all from different populations, had ELISA results above a 0.25 sample-to-positive cutoff value, but none of the ELISA reactors originated from the population from which the single Mptb isolation was made. These six deer were seronegative when tested by agar gel immunodiffusion (AGID). Collectively, these data indicate that white-tailed deer currently do not constitute a broad regional reservoir for Mptb; however, further study is warranted to clarify the significance, if any, of infected deer to the epizootiology of paratuberculosis on a local scale. Adaptation and validation of an ELISA or another serologic assay for use with deer and other wildlife would markedly enhance Mptb surveillance among wild populations and would be a powerful tool for gaining information on the role of wild species in epidemiology of paratuberculosis.
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