SEATTLE — Wildlife officials have confirmed wild deer are suffering from an animal disease on the San Juan Islands after several residents reported dozens of strange deer deaths over the past few weeks.
Dr. Kristin Mansfield, a veterinarian for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the disease was identified as adenovirus hemorrhagic disease, The Seattle Times reported Friday.
Residents on the picturesque islands, about 70 miles northwest of Seattle, reported more than 50 dead deer to state and local wildlife officials since early May. Resident Aimee Beveridge told The Seattle Times on Friday that she discovered three deer in as many weeks on her 10-acre property.
The disease, which was first discovered in California in 1993, poses no risk to humans. But officials said the way it spreads has been compared to how the coronavirus spreads among humans.
Mansfield said the virus “causes the blood vessels to become very leaky” and fills the animals’ lungs with fluid. She said it is “very contagious,” spread by direct contact between deer and through the air.
Infected deer can have bloody diarrhea or frothing at the mouth. There is no treatment or cure. Before this year, the disease had been seen in Washington just once in 2017, when about a dozen animals fell ill near Goldendale in Klickitat County, she said.
“We just started getting calls of numerous deer dying for no apparent reason, with foam coming out of their mouth,” San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs said.
He said county officials at first suspected fertilizers and pesticides, but after state officials sent tissue samples to a Washington State University laboratory for testing, the disease was discovered.
The Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab confirmed two cases in San Juan County using PCR molecular testing — the technology used to confirm cases of the coronavirus — and genomic sequencing.
No evidence suggests the virus has jumped to other parts of the state yet.
“So far, we haven’t received suspicious reports from the mainland, though I would not be at all surprised if we do,” Mansfield said.