New publication: Risk-based surveillance of chronic wasting disease in semi-domestic reindeer

By Hildegunn Viljugrein, Petter Hopp, Sylvie Benestad, Jørn Våge, and Atle Mysterud in Preventive Veterinary Medicine


Reindeer pastoralism is a widespread practise across Fennoscandia and Russia. An outbreak of chronic wasting disease (CWD) among wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) poses a severe threat to the semi-domestic reindeer herding culture. Establishing surveillance is therefore key, but current models for surveillance of CWD are designed for wild cervids and rely on samples obtained from recreational hunters. Targeting animal groups with a higher infection probability is often used for more efficient disease surveillance. CWD has a long incubation period of 2–3 years, and the animals show clinical signs in the later stages of the infection i.e. 1−4 months prior to death. The semi-domestic reindeer are free-ranging most of the year, but during slaughtering in late fall, herders stress the animals in penned areas. This allows removal of animals with deviant behaviour or physical appearance, and such removals are likely to include animals in the clinical stages of CWD if the population is infected. In Norway, the semi-domestic reindeer in Filefjell is adjacent to a previously CWD infected wild population. We developed a risk-based surveillance method for this semi-domestic setting to establish the probability of freedom from infection over time, or enable early disease detection and mitigation. The surveillance scheme with a scenario tree using three risk categories (sample category, demographic group, and deviations in behaviour or physical appearance) was more effective and less invasive as compared to the surveillance method developed for wild reindeer. We also simulated how variation in susceptibility, incubation period and time for onset of clinical signs (linked to variation in the prion protein gene, PRNP) would potentially affect surveillance. Surveillance for CWD was mandatory within EU-member states with reindeer (2018–2020). The diversity of management systems and epidemiological settings will require the development of a set of surveillance systems suitable for each different context. Our surveillance model is designed for a population with a high risk of CWD introduction requiring massive sampling, while at the same time aiming to limit adverse effects to the populations in areas of surveillance.

Publication details

Preventive Veterinary Medicine
Volume 196, November 2021, 105497
DOI: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2021.105497
Publication webpage.

Authors with CEES affiliation

Hildegunn Viljugrein and Atle Mysterud.

Published Sep. 27, 2021 11:57 AM - Last modified Sep. 27, 2021 12:06 PM