FWP Wildlife Biologist Vickie Edwards tells NBC Montana that the number of confirmed whitetail deer deaths in the Missoula Valley is now up to a little over 300, in what is suspected of being a possible EHD outbreak. That’s up from roughly 100 dead deer accounted for on September 17.
EHD is a virus transmitted by a biting midge or gnat, and appears in late summer and early fall. A hard frost for about a couple weeks could bring the suspected virus to an end.
FWP biologists say the virus is not contagious from one animal to the other, but rather spreads through bug bites. The virus can not spread to humans, and when it spreads to livestock, the animals are often not symptomatic at all and do not die.
If the current outbreak is indeed EHD, it could be the first recorded outbreak west of the continental divide. Cases have been documented in eastern Montana.
According to the FWP website, "Humans are not at risk by handling infected deer, eating venison from infected deer or being bitten by infected flies." Officials say that when handling deer, folks should take normal precautions, including wearing gloves and thoroughly washing hands.
The number of dead deer in the Missoula Valley could be much larger than 300, as many expired deer go undetected after dying in thick, brushy areas. The core outbreak is in Hunting District 260, mostly between Harpers Bridge Road and the Erskine Fishing Access.
FWP crews are continuing to collect samples, and test results from a Georgia lab are expected to be released any day now. FWP biologists say the bugs that carry EHD can travel up to 1.5 miles for a “blood meal.” FWP Biologist Vickie Edwards tells NBC Montana that she expects hunters may avoid impacted areas, and hunt in the Bitterroot Valley if they still wish to hunt in District 260. Luckily, she says, deer is abundant in that district.