Plummer IH, Johnson CJ, Chesney AR, Pedersen JA, Samuel MD. 2019. Mineral licks as reservoirs for chronic wasting disease prions. PlosONE 13(5):e0196745.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of deer, elk, moose, and reindeer (cervids) caused by misfolded prion proteins. The disease has been reported across North America and recently discovered in northern Europe. Transmission of CWD in wild cervid populations can occur through environmental routes, but limited ability to detect prions in environmental samples has prevented the identification of potential transmission “hot spots”. We establish widespread CWD prion contamination of mineral licks used by free-ranging cervids in an enzootic area in Wisconsin, USA. We show mineral licks can serve as reservoirs of CWD prions and thus facilitate disease transmission. Furthermore, mineral licks attract livestock and other wildlife that also obtain mineral nutrients via soil and water consumption. Exposure to CWD prions at mineral licks provides potential for cross-species transmission to wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. Managing deer use of mineral licks warrants further consideration to help control outbreaks of CWD.