Bluetongue Strikes Idaho Whitetails

By author of The Duck Blog

Disease Kills Hundreds of Deer, But Hunting Shouldn’t be Affected

Idaho officials estimate almost 1,000 white-tailed deer have died from an outbreak of bluetongue disease.

According to a press release from the state’s Department of Fish and Game, the disease has affected herds in the Grangeville, Whitebird, Harpster, Juliaetta, Kendrick, Troy, Deary and other areas this summer. Still, biologists caution that deer hunters shouldn’t panic.

“It is difficult to get the exact number of diseased or dead animals, but the outbreak is not expected to significantly reduce whitetail populations or affect hunting season,” the release said.

Bluetongue is a viral, noncontagious disease in ruminants. It’s transmitted by biting midges and is very similar to epizootic hemorrhagic disease. Outbreaks typically become more severe during hot, dry summers, when animals congregate near water sources with muddy shorelines that are prime breeding ground for insects, the release said.

Affected animals often salivate excessively, experience swelling of the face and tongue, and develop cyanosis of the tongue, which is a blue or purple coloration of the skin or mucous membranes because tissues near the skin have low oxygen saturation.

Bluetongue is less common than EHD, according to the release. In 2003, Idaho’s Clearwater area suffered a large-scale EHD outbreak that killed about 10,000 deer. The recent bluetongue outbreak is not expected to be nearly as severe as the 2003 occurrence, but it could affect local herds.

The Department of Fish and Game advised hunters not to shoot obviously sick deer. However, the virus that causes the disease cannot infect humans, so consuming meat from animals that displayed no symptoms poses no health risks.

Eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon also experienced bluetongue outbreaks this fall, the release said. The disease typically dies down after hard frosts kill midge populations.