A novel hoof disease of elk (Cervus elaphus) was described in southwestern Washington, US, in 2008 and was subsequently diagnosed in an adjacent area in northwestern Oregon in 2014. The disease, currently referred to as treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD), is characterized by lesions ranging from mild erosions, to severe ulcers with underrunning of the hoof capsule and heel-sole junction, to overgrown and avulsed hoof capsules. Histologically, lesions exhibit epithelial erosion or ulceration, suppurative inflammation, and the presence of argyrophilic spirochetes. We used data collected by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from 2008 to 2017 as reference for disease distribution. We then conducted enhanced surveillance in 2018–20 by obtaining 164 submissions from four US Pacific West states. We detected TAHD for the first time in Idaho and northern California, as well as in multiple counties in Washington and Oregon where it had not been previously reported. Given the unexpectedly broad disease distribution, continued surveillance is warranted to determine the full geographic extent of TAHD. From samples of 22 elk, we investigated 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing as a technique that could be used to supplement TAHD surveillance. Operational taxonomic units of the family Spirochaetaceae were identified in 10 of 12 histologically diagnosed TAHD-positive cases and two of 10 TAHD-negative cases. Phyla Spirochaetae (P<0.008), Fusobacteria (P<0.006), and Tenericutes (P<0.01) were overrepresented in samples from TAHD-positive feet when compared with TAHD-negative elk. A unique spirochete, PT19, was detected in hooves of 11 elk and from at least one elk in each state. Results support the use of 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing as a reliable and informative tool to supplement investigations into distribution and etiology of this presumed polybacterial disease.

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Author notes


Current address: Wildlife Health Services, LPPC, 11710 W Arlen St., Boise, Idaho 83713, USA


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