GOLDENDALE — A deadly virus that is already widespread in some other western deer populations has made its first appearance in Washington.
According to a news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, officials have confirmed a case of Adenovirus Hemorrhagic disease in a Klickitat County deer herd.
The virus, known as AHD, causes rapid or open-mouthed breathing, drooling or foaming mouth, and ulcers of the mouth and throat in deer. Infected deer often become weak and emaciated. AHD is spread through direct contact between deer, contact with bodily fluids and possibly through the air. Although AHD is not always fatal, it does kill many deer within three to five days of exposure. Fawns are especially vulnerable.
“This disease is common enough in California and other western states that we’ve likely had it before but just haven’t been able to document it,” said Kristin Mansfield, WDFW veterinarian. “At this point, the disease appears to be localized here.”
Cases of AHD usually peak in the summer, then taper off in the fall. Biologist Stephanie Bergh said WDFW first heard reports of dead fawns east of Goldendale in July, and continued receiving them through August. Researchers worked with landowners to collect tissue samples from fresh carcasses. Scientists at Washington State University’s Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory confirmed the fawns died of AHD.
Last year, an outbreak of AHD occurred near The Dalles, Oregon, which lies roughly 35 miles southwest of Goldendale. In 2001 and 2002, an outbreak killed about 400 deer near the Central Oregon town of Sisters.
There are no known cases of the deer-specific virus spreading to humans or livestock. However, wildlife managers still encourage precautions. According to an AHD fact-sheet, people who handle deer carcasses should wear gloves, and people with illnesses or compromised immune systems should be especially careful. Deer meat should be thoroughly cooked before consumption.
Since the disease is more likely to spread in areas where deer populations are more dense, wildlife managers say people should not to concentrate deer by providing food or water for them.
“That is the best way we can help minimize the spread of this disease,” Bergh said.
Washington’s General Season for deer-hunting starts on Oct. 14. Currently, there are no plans to curtail the season in any way. However, WDFW experts say hunters might be less successful in areas where a recent die-off has occurred.
Additionally, if WDFW monitoring indicates reduced populations, low fawn survival rates or low buck ratios, future numbers of tags could be reduced until populations recover.
WDFW is asking people in the Goldendale area to report deer with signs of AHD to WDFW’s Ridgefield office at 360-696-6211. Doing so could help wildlife managers identify new cases of the disease.
Citizens elsewhere in the state are also encourage to report sick, injured or dead wildlife. The easiest way to report wildlife observations is by filling out a brief online form: tinyurl.com/Report-sick-wildlife.