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A Deadly Disease Outbreak Hitting Deer Herds

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Sonora, CA — State wildlife officials ask the public to stop feeding deer as a deadly disease is attacking herds and is mostly fatal for fawns.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has confirmed outbreaks of adenovirus hemorrhagic disease in deer in several northern California counties. It attacks the blood vessels causing the animals to show symptoms of rapid or open-mouth breathing, foaming or drooling at the mouth, bloody diarrhea, weakness, and seizures.  It is spread by contact between deer and bodily fluids. To help curb the spread, the CDFW is asking the public to not feeding wild animals, and report potential cases to the department.

“Providing attractants for deer – food, salt licks, or even water – is against the law for good reason,” said Dr. Brandon Munk, a senior wildlife veterinarian with CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory. “Because these artificial attractants can congregate animals and promote the spread of disease, it’s particularly imperative to leave wildlife alone during an outbreak. There is no cure or vaccine for this disease, so our best management strategies right now are to track it carefully, and to take preventative measures to limit the spread.”

Since May, there have been increased reports of mortality in deer, both free-ranging and at fawn rehabilitation facilities to the CDFW. Currently, the outbreaks are in Kern, Napa and Nevada counties, but the disease can spread quickly. It was the cause of a 1993-1994 outbreak of hemorrhagic disease in black tailed deer and mule deer that spanned at least 18 California counties.

Fawns are at greatest risk, with high rates of mortality following infection. Yearlings and adult deer are more resistant but mortalities in these age groups occur as well. The CDFW says outbreaks can be widespread and may have significant impact on affected deer populations.

Reporting sightings of sick or dead deer is helpful to keep track of the spread of the disease relay CDFW officials and can be submitted online, click here.

The virus is not known to affect people, pets, or domestic livestock.