Could avian scavengers translocate infectious prions to disease-free areas initiating new foci of chronic wasting disease?

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Abstract

Mechanisms for the spread of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy diseases, including chronic wasting disease (CWD) in North American cervids, are incompletely understood, but primary routes include horizontal and environmental transmission. Birds have been identified as potential vectors for a number of diseases, where they ingest or are exposed to infected material and later shed the disease agent in new areas after flying substantial distances. We recently identified American crows(Corvus brachyrhynchos)as having the potential to translocate infectious prions in their feces. Our results suggest that this common, migratory North American scavenger is capable of translocating infectious prions to disease-free areas, potentially seeding CWD infection where no other initial source of pathogen establishment is forthcoming. Here we speculate on the role avian scavengers, like American crows, might play in the spatial dissemination of CWD. We also consider the role mammalian scavengers may play in dispersing prions.

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