WDFW veterinarian Kristin Mansfield said today that bluetongue is a common virus transmitted by biting gnats at water sources where deer congregate during dry conditions. Every year in late summer and early fall, some white-tailed deer are lost to bluetongue and a similar virus known as EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease).
She said the department does not know precisely how many deer have been affected, but reports are more widespread and numerous than in the past, probably because of the severe drought across the region.
As of Sept. 17, WDFW had received reports of suspected deaths from bluetongue or EHD in several portions of the department’s eastern region, which includes Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla and Whitman counties.
WDFW wildlife managers said the emergence of the disease will not affect this year’s hunting seasons. Archery deer hunting season is under way now, and muzzleloader and modern firearm seasons start next month.
WDFW will continue to monitor effects of the disease until it subsides. Mansfield said outbreaks usually end with the arrival of colder, wetter weather, when deer move away from gnat-infested areas, or by the first hard frost, which kills the disease-carrying gnats.
The department urges people who observe suspected bluetongue or EHD in white-tailed deer to call WDFW’s eastern regional office in Spokane at 509-892-1001 or the department’s dead wildlife hotline at 1-800-606-8768.
Bluetongue and EHD are spread by biting gnats, not from deer to deer, and are not transmissible to humans. Nonetheless, WDFW discourages hunters from shooting and consuming animals that are obviously sick. Other wildlife species, including mule deer, are rarely affected.
Symptoms in the early stages include lethargy, disorientation, lameness, or unresponsiveness to the presence of humans. Later signs include excessive salivation or foaming at the mouth and a swollen tongue.
Mansfield said the disease often kills deer so quickly – within a day or two – that their bodies remain in good condition, but others may not die immediately but stop eating and become emaciated. She said the incubation period for these diseases is five to 10 days, so afflicted deer may be observed for a couple of weeks after the first hard frost of fall.