New Jersey wildlife officials confirmed on Friday that the state’s first traces of bluetongue virus have been found on two dead deer. According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the deer were discovered in Somerset and Morris County last month and tested positive for the disease, which is spread by midge bites. Experts often compare bluetongue disease to the similar epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), as both share the same symptoms, affect the same species, and are not considered contagious. Bluetongue, however, has a reputation for causing affected animals to develop foot lesions. In animals like deer, elk, pronghorn, and cattle, it can be extremely painful and eventually causes death. The erratic movements caused by the foot lesions have caused bluetongue to also be known as the “dancing disease.”
“The bluetongue virus is widely distributed in the United States, but has not been previously found in deer in New Jersey,” said Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Dave Chanda. “Both diseases are spread to animals by the bite of a certain type of midge. Neither disease can be transmitted to people. While EHD is only found in deer populations, the bites of the midge can transmit bluetongue to certain types of livestock.”
Mortality is relatively low with bluetongue, although there is no effective treatment for affected wildlife. The incubation period can last anywhere from a week to 20 days and symptoms can involve a high fever, swelling of the lips, and respiratory problems. Since the disease is spread by midges, experts expect that the potential for disease transmission will end when the winter frost kills the insects.
Like EHD, people cannot contract bluetongue through handling infected deer or eating venison. A midge bite will also not give people the disease. However, wildlife officials still advise against touching or eating any deer that appears to be ill.
Image courtesy National Park Service