Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal, emerging disease of cervids associated with transmissible protease-resistant prion proteins. The potential for CWD to cause dramatic declines in deer and elk populations and perceived human health risks associated with consuming CWD-contaminated venison have led wildlife agencies to embark on extensive CWD control programs, typically involving culling to reduce deer populations. We characterized the spatial distribution of CWD in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in Wisconsin to facilitate CWD management. We found that CWD prevalence declined with distance from a central location, was locally correlated at a scale of 3.6 km, and was correlated with deer habitat abundance. The latter result is consistent with patterns expected for a positive relationship between density and prevalence of CWD. We recommend management activities focused on culling in geographic areas with high prevalence to have the greatest probability of removing infected individuals. Further research is needed to elucidate the factors involved in CWD spread and infection rates, especially the role of density-dependent transmission.
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