Viral disease to blame in deaths of some 1,000 Idaho deer

By Laura Zuckerman SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A viral disease called bluetongue, which tends to strike with greater severity during droughts, is to blame for the mysterious die-off of as many as 1,000 whitetail deer in Idaho, state wildlife managers said on Tuesday. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game began receiving reports of dead and dying deer last month tied to a bluetongue outbreak concentrated in north-central parts of the state bordering Washington. The spread of the ailment, which does not threaten humans, spikes during hot, dry summers as more animals gather around waters where the infected gnats that transmit the disease breed, Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Roger Phillips said. Most of Idaho is experiencing drought conditions that have parched massive swaths of the U.S. West Symptoms of bluetongue, so named for the bluish cast to tongues of some afflicted animals, can include high fever and swelling of the face. Idaho wildlife officials said one worry about the current outbreak was that it suggested a strain of bluetongue that was similar to epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which is transmitted by tiny biting flies and which caused the die-off of 10,000 whitetails during an outbreak in the state in 2003. That viral disease killed hundreds of deer in Montana in 2013 as well. The ailment, which causes hemorrhaging of organs such as the heart, liver and spleen, also tends to be concentrated in whitetail deer and is not known to affect humans. Idaho wildlife managers said bluetongue was not expected to decimate whitetail herds statewide but could exact a heavy toll on local herds. No changes were immediately planned for the hunting season for whitetail that opens this weekend. (Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Curtis Skinner and Sandra Maler)