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National Wildlife Disease Program (NWDP)

NWDP Banner showing researchers working in the lab

The National Wildlife Disease Program (NWDP) promotes safe agricultural trade by protecting the health of humans, animals, plants, and ecosystems and reducing levels of incurred losses to agricultural and natural resources. NWDP participates in wildlife disease monitoring and surveillance in all regions of the United States. Large-scale projects include wildlife surveillance for avia influenza, SARS-CoV-2, and plague. Activities on emerging pathogens are routinely implemented as well, with recent projects on bovine brucellosis in wildlife, hantavirus spillover to humans, and coordination of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 reporting.

The program's Wildlife Disease Biologists function as WS' first responders through NWDP's Surveillance and Emergency Response System (SERS). The NWDP also collaborates with non-governmental organizations and officials from other countries to promote and help in the development of wildlife disease monitoring programs worldwide.

Surveillance and Emergency Response System (SERS)

The NWDP is part of the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) which is an emergency response agency that works under the National Response Framework. The National Response Framework is a comprehensive guide on how the nation deals with emergencies. The National Response Framework outlines how federal, state, tribal and local governments, along with the private sector, coordinate emergency response efforts. This framework recognizes distinct support functions needed during an emergency/disaster event or incident. These Emergency Support Functions include categories such as transportation, communications, and public health/medical services.

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Avian Health

The NWDP collects samples from wild birds for disease surveillance. Surveillance helps APHIS better understand and track the presence of avian influenza and other pathogens of concern along migratory bird pathways. Detecting highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses in wild birds, or influenza viruses that have the potential to mutate to high pathogenicity, is the primary focus of wild bird surveillance efforts; however, the NWDP also checks for several other avian pathogens that could have a potential impact on domestic poultry, human health, and other wild bird species. 

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Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused a global pandemic. The potential for spillover of the virus to wildlife is a concern because of the potential health impacts to wildlife, domestic animals, and humans, as well as the possible establishment of new wildlife reservoirs of the virus. Consequently, APHIS researchers have worked to identify susceptible wildlife species and the NWDP began collecting surveillance samples for SARS-CoV-2 from white-tailed deer in 2020.  Of note, several recent SARS-CoV-2 studies in white-tailed deer have produced evidence of both deer-to-deer and human-to-deer transmission of different SARS-CoV-2 variants in both captive and free-ranging deer populations in multiple US states. 

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Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) infects cervids (elk and deer), but is not known to infect other wildlife, livestock, or humans. Chronic wasting disease belongs to the family of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies. The causative infectious agents are abnormal proteins called prions. There is no known treatment, and the mode of transmission is not well understood. Chronic wasting disease has been found in North America, Norway, and South Korea. The distribution in North America has been increasing and as of April 2022 it has been detected in 30 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces in free-ranging cervids and/or commercial captive cervid facilities.

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Plague has been identified as a disease of concern to human, wildlife, and domestic animal populations within the United States. It is also considered a "Category A" disease by the Department of Homeland Security, meaning it could potentially be used as a bioterrorist agent.   In the US, plague is almost exclusively restricted to the western half of the country (roughly west of the 100th meridian). This infectious disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is primarily vectored by fleas, although other transmission routes also exist.  

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Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type 2 (RHDV2) is a viral disease fatal to lagomorph species (rabbits, hares, and pikas). It does not affect humans or other animals. It was first detected in wild rabbit populations in the US in March 2020, the since that time, the NWDP has worked closely with Veterinary Services and diagnostic labs to track all wild lagomorph samples submitted for testing, report test results back to state wildlife agencies, and provide crucial data used in OIE reporting, disease mapping, and genetic sequencing.  

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Bovine Tuberculosis

Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) is a chronic bacterial disease (primarily of cattle) caused by the microorganism Mycobacterium bovis. The disease can affect other species, including humans and wildlife. Bovine TB is most often transmitted to humans by ingestion of unpasteurized milk, inhalation of aerosolized respiratory tract bacteria, and inoculation by contaminated instruments (such as knives). The disease can be spread from livestock to wildlife or wildlife to livestock via the fecal-oral route, ingestion of contaminated food, or through respiratory transmission. The APHIS Bovine TB Eradication Program has reduced TB in U.S. cattle; however, spillover into wildlife may maintain the microorganism in the environment and function as a source of re-infection for livestock. 

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Diseases Associated with Feral Swine

The NWDP collaborates with the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program on disease management, research, pathogen surveillance, emergency response, education and outreach regarding diseases of feral swine. These non-native mammals can damage natural resources, agriculture, property, and human health and safety across the country and are considered invasive. They can be reservoirs of disease and may act as a host to a number of parasites, leaving the United States domestic swine industry vulnerable to disease.  

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Program Staff:

Dr. Julianna Lenoch, National Program Coordinator
Dr. Sarah Bevins, Assistant National Program Coordinator
Dennis Kohler,Wildlife Services Emergency Manager
Mike Milleson, Assistant Emergency Manager
Scott Stopak, Assistant Emergency Manager
Krista Dilione, Wildlife Biologist
Derek Collins, Wildlife Biologist
Timothy Linder, Wildlife Disease Biologist
Kelsey Dawson, Biological Science Technician
Jourdan Ringenberg, Biological Science Technician
Mary Kimball, Budget Analyst

Avian Health | Chronic Wasting Disease | Bovine Tuberculosis | Feral Swine | Plague | RHDV2 | SARS-CoV-2 | SERS

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