Deer disease strikes Whidbey

The disease only affects deer and has no impact on pets, livestock or humans.

A deadly deer disease has landed on Whidbey.

Earlier this year, a highly contagious viral infection known as adenovirus hemorrhagic disease, or AHD, was reported on Blakely, Henry, Lopez, Orcas, San Juan, Shaw, Stuart and Fidalgo islands.

The disease only affects deer and has no impact on pets, livestock or humans who come into contact with infected deer. Symptoms of AHD include foaming at the mouth and bloody diarrhea.

Deer pass the disease through bodily fluids, such as blood, feces and saliva. It is suspected that airborne transmission of AHD might also be possible.

Matthew Hamer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist covering Island County, said last month that the department was on the lookout for black-tail deer on Whidbey displaying symptoms of the disease. Over the summer he had collected tissue samples from dead deer that had the symptoms, but none of them tested positive for AHD — until recently.

Hamer necropsied a young male deer Sept. 13 that had died in the parking lot of Dugualla State Park on North Whidbey and had been exhibiting symptoms. Hamer took samples of the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, rumen and spleen of the deer and sent them to a state laboratory for historical examination and testing.

The testing process took several weeks, and the lab confirmed that the deer tested positive for the virus.

Since Sept. 13, Hamer said there have been six other reports of sick deer potentially infected with AHD.

“All of these more recent reports have come from northern Whidbey Island, mostly near Coupeville and Oak Harbor,” he said. “However, in late August we received a report of a potentially affected dead deer near Crockett Lake and a report near Holmes Harbor of a potentially affected deer in early September.”

Since the presence of the disease has been confirmed on Whidbey, Hamer said Fish and Wildlife won’t be testing any more deer that exhibit symptoms. The department is, however, asking residents to continue using the reporting tool on its website to report sick deer, wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/diseases.

If residents come across a dead deer on their property, Hamer said the department is advising that they either bury the carcass or dispose of it at the Island County Public Works Coupeville Solid Waste Complex.

“When they arrive at the solid waste complex, they should inform the gate attendant that they have a deer carcass to dispose of,” Hamer said. “They should not take carcasses to other Island County dropbox waste disposal locations, they will not be accepted.”

Hunters should also keep an eye out. While consuming venison from a deer that was infected with AHD is not harmful to humans, Fish and Wildlife is recommending that hunters not harvest sick animals who are clearly displaying the symptoms of the disease in order to minimize the risk of spreading it.

And as Hamer pointed out in an earlier Record article, residents should refrain from feeding the deer, as a congregation could further the spread of the disease.

For more information about AHD, visit the state Fish and Wildlife website.

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