Chronic Wasting Disease is a neurodegenerative disease in cervids caused by prions. Symptoms remain undetected for years as the disease slowly eats away at the brain causing the animal to act erratically and waste away The disease is always fatal and is a threat to deer populations across the country.
The most common vector of transmission exchange of saliva, such as when two deer chew on the same branch, but a new study suggests that the disease may be spread through sexual contact.
According to Wisconson NPR, Researchers at the University of Texas, Colorado State University’s Prion Research Center, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture analyzed samples from 21 white-tailed deer bucks, culled from farms across the country. In that study, they discovered the presence of CWD prion in semen.
“In terms of disease transmission, the presence of prions in semen begs the question of whether sexual contact is a plausible route of CWD transmission,” the study reads.
The study concludes that more research is needed to actually determine if the amount of prions present in semen is enough to pass along the disease to other deer.
Nicholas Haley, a CWD researcher and assistant professor at Midwestern University, who was not involved in the study, said this research is just the beginning of a years-long process to learn more about CWD in semen. Part of the problem is that no one knows what constitutes a dangerous level of prions.
“We could go in one direction and say that this is unacceptable to have any prions in semen, or we could take a step back and say let’s try to figure out exactly what this means,” he said.
The authors of the study have moved forward with the results and have set the goal of figuring out the fundamental question: Is CWD sexually transmittable?
“Future experiments in actual deer will determine whether CWD can be transmitted by breeding practices including sexual contacts or artificial inseminations,” the study reads.
The fact that they discovered the presence of prions and that the researchers are moving forward with the study suggests that CWD being sexually transmitted is at least plausible.
If research does determine that CWD is sexually transmittible it could have implications to deer farming operations. The selling of deer semen for artificial inseminations is big business, and based on the direction legislation has gone in the past would suggest curtailing the selling and distributing of semen to combat the spread of the disease.