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In September 2002, chronic wasting disease (CWD), a prion disorder of captive and wild cervids, was diagnosed in a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) from a captive farm in Wisconsin. The facility was subsequently quarantined, and in January 2006 the remaining 76 deer were depopulated. Sixty animals (79%) were found to be positive by immunohistochemical staining for the abnormal prion protein (PrPCWD) in at least one tissue; the prevalence of positive staining was high even in young deer. Although none of the deer displayed clinical signs suggestive of CWD at depopulation, 49 deer had considerable accumulation of the abnormal prion in the medulla at the level of the obex. Extraneural accumulation of the abnormal protein was observed in 59 deer, with accumulation in the retropharyngeal lymph node in 58 of 59 (98%), in the tonsil in 56 of 59 (95%), and in the rectal mucosal lymphoid tissue in 48 of 58 (83%). The retina was positive in 4 deer, all with marked accumulation of prion in the obex. One deer was considered positive for PrPCWD in the brain but not in the extraneural tissue, a novel observation in white-tailed deer. The infection rate in captive deer was 20-fold higher than in wild deer. Although weakly related to infection rates in extraneural tissues, prion genotype was strongly linked to progression of prion accumulation in the obex. Antemortem testing by biopsy of rectoanal mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue (or other peripheral lymphoid tissue) may be a useful adjunct to tonsil biopsy for surveillance in captive herds at risk for CWD infection.
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Chronic wasting disease in a Wisconsin white-tailed deer farm