Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an emergent, rapidly spreading prion disease of cervids. Shedding of infectious prions in saliva and urine is thought to be an important factor in CWD transmission. To help to elucidate this issue, we applied an in vitro amplification assay to determine the onset, duration, and magnitude of prion shedding in longitudinally collected saliva and urine samples from CWD-exposed white-tailed deer. We detected prion shedding as early as 3 months after CWD exposure and sustained shedding throughout the disease course. We estimated that the 50% lethal dose (LD50) for cervidized transgenic mice would be contained in 1 ml of infected deer saliva or 10 ml of urine. Given the average course of infection and daily production of these body fluids, an infected deer would shed thousands of prion infectious doses over the course of CWD infection. The direct and indirect environmental impacts of this magnitude of prion shedding on cervid and noncervid species are surely significant.
Importance: Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an emerging and uniformly fatal prion disease affecting free-ranging deer and elk and is now recognized in 22 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces. It is unique among prion diseases in that it is transmitted naturally through wild populations. A major hypothesis to explain CWD's florid spread is that prions are shed in excreta and transmitted via direct or indirect environmental contact. Here we use a rapid in vitro assay to show that infectious doses of CWD prions are in fact shed throughout the multiyear disease course in deer. This finding is an important advance in assessing the risks posed by shed CWD prions to animals as well as humans.
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