Blue Tongue Disease Taking Toll on Kentucky Deer: Could Texas Be Next?

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Blue tongue disease is spreading in white-tailed deer in parts of Kentucky. Reports of dead deer are being called in to fish and wildlife officials across the state. This outbreak is cause for alarm as Texas deer populations might be vulnerable to blue tongue, and a similar condition, called EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease).

Spread by “No See Um” Flies

Midge fly

Photo: Flickr/Katja Schulz

According to wildlife officials, blue tongue virus causes lethargy, weakness, swelling in the head area, and eventually, internal bleeding. Infected deer often go to water to try to reduce their body temperature, and often die in the water. Deer can survive this disease, but it’s very rare and there is no treatment. The disease is transmitted by tiny midge flies commonly called “no see um’s,” and it cannot be transmitted to humans.

The disease spreads more quickly during bad droughts—such as that experienced across much of the nation last summer—because deer come to water more often as they don’t get much moisture from the vegetation they consume. The exposed mud around the water sources is the breeding grounds for the midges. So, when deer come to a get a drink, they are at very high risk for being bitten by the bugs and “injected” with the virus.

Be Alert for Signs of Blue Tongue in Texas Deer

Blue Tongue deer

Photo: Flickr/Mr.TinDC

The “blue tongue” that gives the disease its name occurs only in a low number of cases. Symptoms will begin to show within a week after a whitetail deer is bitten and infected with blue tongue or EHD virus. Infected whitetail are less fearful of humans, salivate excessively, exhibit peeling or sloughing of the hoof walls, lose their appetite, and do not forage for food. Blue tongue and EHD induced death can directly come from hemorrhages of the heart or other organs and indirectly from inadequate nutrition/starvation. Hemorrhage and lack of oxygen in the blood results in a blue appearance of the oral mucosa, hence the name “blue tongue.”

While the disease is currently contained to Kentucky and parts of Tennessee, it has been reported in Texas and, in greater numbers, could impact the deer population here. Wildlife officials urge hunters to keep an eye out for symptoms of blue tongue or EHD in deer and report any suspicious cases to authorities.