Yep, they’re looking good, but they may not make it to hunting season. photo by Jim Anderson
Yep, they’re looking good, but they may not make it to hunting season. photo by Jim Anderson

Last week a woman walked into The Nugget office and reported she was seeing fewer mule deer does with fawns in the area where she lives east of Sisters. She contacted the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) - and wondered if others in Sisters Country had the same concerns.

According to Cory Heath, wildlife biologist for ODFW, this has, indeed, been a poor year for fawn survival. The reason is a growing threat from what appears to be adenoviruses, aka AHD.

This disease is in a small group of viruses that can infect a wide variety of animals, both wild and domestic, and for some unknown reason is running rampant through our mule deer right now.

AHD virus of deer was first identified in California in 1994. Infected deer have clinical signs common to other diseases, such as bluetongue or pneumonia. However, chronic symptoms include ulcers and abscesses in the mouth and throat.

Acute symptoms include rapid or open-mouth breathing, foaming or drooling at the mouth, diarrhea (possibly bloody), weakness, and copious amounts of fluid in the body cavity. Death can occur within three to five days from the time the deer is exposed to the virus. Adults are subject to the disease, but fawns are particularly vulnerable, as is seen by the low fawn production this year.

In 2001, Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory confirmed the presence of AHD in one adult black-tailed deer doe from southwest Oregon. Biologists suspect that the deaths of several dozen other deer in the same area also may have been caused by AHD.

The following year in 2002, ODFW and the Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory confirmed the presence of AHD in a viral disease outbreak in Central Oregon (Deschutes, Jefferson, and Wasco counties). Then, between May 9 and August 1, 2002, an estimated 400-plus deer died from the virus in the Crooked River Ranch area and Sisters Country.

There is no treatment for individual deer infected with AHD. Monitoring, proper carcass disposal, and not moving infected live deer are methods to minimize the spread of the disease to new areas. ODFW wildlife biologists are currently attempting to determine how widespread the disease may be.

Transmission of AHD is by direct contact among deer, (usually between bodily fluids), and possibly airborne routes. High-density deer populations could have a higher risk for the disease due to the ease of transmission.

There are no known cases of humans getting sick from AHD. However, if living or hunting in an infected area, it's a good idea to wear disposable rubber gloves when handling carcasses. (Use proper disposal methods of the gloves afterwards.) People who may be sick for any reason or who have a compromised immune system should also take special precautions around these carcasses.

In addition, there are no known health risks of eating meat from a deer infected with AHD; however, experts recommend thoroughly cooking any meat from animals from an infected area. It's also a good time to thoroughly check the meat for any lead fragments that may have entered muscle and internal organs when the animal was shot.

It is not known if AHD has been present long-term in Oregon deer herds, or if it recently arrived, however, the death of deer in southwest Oregon in 2001, and the death of AHD-infected deer in Sisters Country in 2002 seems to indicate the disease may have spread from California northward to Oregon.

Action by the City of Sisters to halt feeding deer within city limits will help in preventing further outbreak of AHD in Sisters Country mule deer. ODFW staff have repeatedly encouraged people to avoid providing feed or water stations for deer because these activities may assist in spreading the disease.

You can also help ODFW monitor AHD by being aware of any deer that (literally) fall over and die in your vicinity. They're not interested in road-kills, for obvious reasons, but any deer found dead - or in stress for no obvious reason - should be reported to the ODFW Bend Regional Office as soon as possible by calling 541-388-6363. On weekends, when the ODFW office is closed, call the Oregon State Police or Deschutes County Sheriff and they will contact someone from ODFW.

If you do observe a fresh-dead deer or one in stress, do not go near it. Keep your pets, especially dogs, away from it.