A disease that has killed at least two dozen white-tailed deer recently in northeast Washington is expected to subside with the return of cooler weather.
The deer deaths from Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) have occurred mostly in Stevens, north Spokane and north Lincoln counties where deer numbers are high, according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists.
The disease, which is linked to warm, dry weather, is not contagious from one animal to another, and it is not transferable to humans. It is carried by biting gnats that live in or near water and wet, muddy areas. It is transmitted to deer that congregate at watering holes during hot, dry weather.
Colder, wet weather or the first hard frost will kill the disease-carrying gnats. Since the incubation period for the disease is five to 10 days, and some areas already had frost on August 30, the outbreak already may be nearly over.
Deer hunting season doesn't open until Oct. 16, and frost is likely by that time, so deer hunters probably will not see live infected animals. In case the outbreak lingers, however, hunters should avoid shooting deer that show any EHD symptoms. WDFW advises against eating meat from severely infected deer, even though the disease cannot be transmitted to humans.
Deer in the early stages of EHD may appear lethargic, disoriented, lame, or unresponsive to humans. As the disease progresses the deer may have bloody discharge from the nose, lesions or sores on the mouth, and swollen, blue tongues. They become emaciated because they stop eating. Sometimes they even stop drinking, although many deer die in or near water.
Other wildlife, such as mule deer, elk and bighorn sheep could be exposed to the disease but usually are not stricken like white-tailed deer. No evidence of an outbreak in these species has been found at this time nor in past outbreaks.
Domestic livestock also could be exposed, although cattle and sheep are usually only carriers, not victims, of the "Bluetongue" virus, which is very similar to EHD.
The disease last fall broke out among deer along the Snake River in southeast Washington. The disease last struck whitetails in great numbers in northeast Washington in 1992.