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Promoting solutions: Auburn professor drives disease management in deer populations

By November 13, 2023February 19th, 2024No Comments

Auburn University Professor Aniruddha Belsare in the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment studies a wildlife disease with no vaccine and no treatment, but this does not deter his persistence in generating solutions for early detection to delay establishment of the disease.

His proactive approach is catching on.

Belsare created a computer model for wildlife agencies and other decision-makers to assist in early detection and proactive management of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer populations.

CWD is an emerging prion disease affecting deer and other cervids and is transmitted via excretions and secretions. The fatal disease has a protracted course in deer of 18-24 months, during which the animals secrete infectious prions into the environment. Some soils, as well as plants can be contaminated for up to two years.

CWD has spread in the wild since the 1980s in the U.S., and local deer numbers decline once the disease is established in the population. The verdict is still out as to whether CWD can infect humans.

BELSARE’S HISTORY WITH CWD RESEARCH

Belsare began studying CWD as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri. In 2012, the Missouri Department of Conservation discovered its first CWD case and sought the best strategy to promptly detect cases in its deer populations.

The agency asked Belsare to develop a modeling framework for the state.

“I had the idea that we should not limit the scope of modeling to just one state when we can instead make a framework which other agencies would be able to use,” said Belsare.

Belsare went on to develop a customizable and portable modeling framework, OvCWD,  that any state or county could use to understand CWD threats and predict how the disease would spread in regional populations.

Ani Belsare is pictured outside Ani Belsare is pictured outside of the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment at Auburn University.

(Written by Amy Burtch)

Learn more about disease management in deer populations.

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