Deer in the Pacific-Northwest, specifically Idaho and Washington, are being wiped out by the hundreds by a viral disease, bluetongue. The disease is being exacerbated by the ongoing drought that is continuing to dry out the west.
As many as 90 percent of the white-tailed deer infected with the virus will ultimately perish. This is especially worrisome because bluetongue is generally not considered to be a high-mortality disease, though certain species have proven to be highly vulnerable.In one small eastern Washington city, Colville, at least 68 deer have succumbed to bluetongue.
The disease is able to kill infected animals within a matter of days once symptoms in the nose and mouth set in. Worse yet, the virus is hopping over into other animals, though so far only a few infections have been discovered. One mule deer and one bighorn sheep in Idaho have been infected.
Bluetongue isn’t a new or particularly uncommon disease. In the past, however, the virus has only infected small, isolated populations. Now experts fear that it could spread among larger populations. Bluetongue is closely related to hemorrhagic diseases, but is not to be confused with epizootic hemorrhagic disease virus (EHD).
A lab at Washington State University has confirmed the presence of the disease. The college also noted that cows, yaks, and other animals have ecently tested positive for bluetongue. Generally, the disease is not transferred from one livestock to another, but is instead spread through biting insects. Recent drought conditions have created the perfect environment for these insects to spread the disease, resulting in much higher rates of infection than before.
Hemorrhagic diseases in general are among the deadliest and most gruesome types of diseases, often causing animals to bleed to death. Ebola is an example of a hemorrhagic disease that affects humans.
The disease takes its name from its symptoms. Once symptoms begin to set in, animals suffer from swelling faces and tongues. The swelling can cause the tongue to turn blue due to the influx of blood. The incubation period is normally between 5 to 20 days. Symptoms usually manifest themselves within a month.
Bluetongue can be found across the world, including in North America, Africa, Europe and Australia. The disease can be severe enough that it can affect international trade.
The United States is considered to be the most vulnerable to bluetongue disease. As such, medical health experts have been ramping up efforts to monitor and when necessary control the disease. While the current outbreak is most heavily impacting white-tailed deer, in the past the disease has proven to be a major threat to livestock populations, and in particular sheep.
Check out the video below for relevant images and information on bluetongued disease.