A disease the state Department of Fish and Wildlife determined in early June was killing deer on the San Juan Islands is now affecting deer in Anacortes.
Robert Waddell, district wildlife biologist for Skagit and Whatcom counties, said as of July 20 six dead deer were reported in the neighborhood near Cap Sante Park. They included four fawns, a young doe and an adult buck.
Residents disposed of the fawns before notifying Fish and Wildlife, Waddell said, but biologists were able to inspect the others, and a necropsy verified the cause of death was a viral infection known as adenovirus hemorrhagic disease (AHD).
Waddell said testing of tissue samples taken from a buck found dead July 18 near Cap Sante Park confirmed the animal had the disease. The lab that confirmed the buck was infected with AHD is now examining tissue samples from a fawn found dead July 25 in the same area.
Fish and Wildlife veterinarian Kristin Mansfield said the necropsy — like an autopsy in humans — will involve looking for ruptured blood vessels and damaged lungs, as well as taking tissue samples for both microscopic examination and for testing for the presence of the virus.
On June 3, Fish and Wildlife announced that the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Washington State University had confirmed AHD was found in deer from San Juan and Orcas islands — where an uptick in sick and dead deer was reported.
The disease is specific to members of the deer family and is not uncommon, with cases most often seen during midsummer and early fall, according to Fish and wildlife. Annual outbreaks occur in other states, including Oregon, and the disease was found in British Columbia in the fall 2020.
The last outbreak in Washington occurred in Goldendale, along the Columbia River east of Portland, in 2017, according to Fish and Wildlife.
Signs of deer infected with AHD include rapid or open-mouth breathing, foaming or drooling from the mouth, diarrhea, weakness and emaciation. Death can occur within three to five days, and fawns are most often affected.
The disease does not pose a risk to livestock, pets or people through contact or by consuming the meat.
The disease spreads directly from deer to deer and there is no known treatment.
“For that reason we ask people not to concentrate deer by providing feed or water for them,” Mansfield said in the early June news release about the outbreak on the islands. “That is the best way we can help minimize the spread of this disease.”