Epidemiological differences between sexes affect management efficacy in simulated chronic wasting disease systems.
Sex-based differences in physiology, behaviour and demography commonly result in differences in disease prevalence. However, sex differences in prevalence may reflect exposure rather than transmission, which could affect disease control programmes. One potential example is chronic wasting disease (CWD), which has been observed at greater prevalence among male than female deer. We used an age- and sex-structured simulation model to explore harvest-based management of CWD under three different transmission scenarios that all generate higher male prevalence: (1) increased male susceptibility, (2) high male-to-male transmission or (3) high female-to-male transmission. Both female and male harvests were required to limit CWD epidemics across all transmission scenarios (approximated by R0), though invasion was more likely under high female-to-male transmission. In simulations, heavily male-biased harvests controlled CWD epidemics and maintained large host populations under high male-to-male transmission and increased male susceptibility scenarios. However, male-biased harvests were ineffective under high female-to-male transmission. Instead, female-biased harvests were able to limit disease transmission under high female-to-male transmission but incurred a trade-off with smaller population sizes. Synthesis and applications. Higher disease prevalence in a sex or age group may be due to higher exposure or susceptibility but does not necessarily indicate if that group is responsible for more disease transmission. We showed that multiple processes can result in the pattern of higher male prevalence, but that population-level management interventions must focus on the sex responsible for disease transmission, not just those that are most exposed.