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Surveillance and Monitoring of Chronic Wasting Disease in Florida’s Deer

A deer stands in the middle of a grass field.
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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is the most severe and costly threat to white-tailed deer populations in North America. It is always fatal to deer, elk, moose, and caribou. The disease is caused by a prion, or misfolded protein, which can persist in the environment for decades. Mad cow is another prion disease that is closely related to CWD. These prions are not destroyed by UV irradiation of the sun, are resistant to freezing, and can withstand temperatures of over 1600° F, lasting in the environment through prescribed burns and all seasons. No vaccine exists to prevent CWD, and environmental shifts do not reduce the threat of disease. With so many perpetuating factors, prevention remains the best way to fight CWD.

Though CWD has not yet been detected in Florida, delayed detection and management will result in millions of dollars in control costs and lost revenue for Florida. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) has developed a concise set of best management practices for the prevention, surveillance, and management of the disease in deer, including practices for CWD-negative states like Florida. This project aims to improve our prevention and surveillance efforts. Using these practices, FWC may detect and manage the disease before it damages the ecosystem.                

With guidance from the Cornell Wildlife Health Laboratory, the FWC Wildlife Health team will survey members of the white-tailed deer community such as taxidermists, meat processors, and captive cervid owners to better understand CWD risk in Florida, including introduction potential. The results of this survey will be used in a mathematical model with other data such as deer demography data (how big the deer population is in each county), historical surveillance data (where we have looked for CWD in deer in the past without finding it), and laws for white-tailed deer importation in nearby states. The outputs of this model allow our agency to determine where CWD is most likely to be introduced in Florida. This targeted approach reduces resource needs by focusing on finding and controlling the disease in its early stages instead of taking a 'needle in a haystack’ approach. The vital work being completed by this team will lead to better information for the prevention of this deadly disease in Florida white-tailed deer.