Wildlife officials confirm virus affecting deer on San Juan Islands

A viral infection known as adenovirus hemorrhagic disease (AHD) is being blamed as some deer have been seen foaming at the mouth and even found dead by some residents on the San Juan Islands, according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials.

Those are just a couple of signs of deer infected with AHD.

Officials said the virus is specific to deer and does not pose a risk to livestock, pets or people either from contact or by eating deer meat; however, wildlife staff advise the use of disposable gloves when handling any wildlife carcass and avoiding “harvesting or consuming animals that are visibly ill.”

Wildlife officials confirmed that the virus is behind an increase in reports of sick deer across San Juan and Orcas islands, including suspected cases on Lopez Island.

“This is the first documented instance of this disease in Washington since the last outbreak in Goldendale in 2017,” said Kristin Mansfield, WDFW veterinarian. “At this point, the disease appears to be localized to the San Juan Islands.”

The virus is not uncommon in other states. In Oregon, outbreaks occur every year, officials said.

According to WDFW, AHD also was found in British Columbia during the fall of 2020 on the Gulf Islands and southern Vancouver Island.

Signs a deer is infected with AHD include “rapid or open-mouth breathing, foaming or drooling from the mouth, diarrhea, weakness, and emaciation,” said wildlife officials.

WDFW also said a deer could die from the virus within three to five days of exposure, and cases typically peak in midsummer.

Because there is no known cure or treatment for AHD it is “more likely” to spread in areas with high deer concentrations, Mansfield said.

“For that reason, we ask people not to concentrate deer by providing feed or water for them,” she said. “That is the best way we can help minimize the spread of this disease.”

Anyone who sees live or dead deer showing signs of the virus is asked to report it on WDFW’s wildlife diseases webpage.