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Missoula-area deer death toll at roughly 200, cause still a mystery

Published On: Dec 24 2013 06:29:41 AM MST   Updated On: Sep 24 2013 08:58:36 PM MDT


Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials have confirmed for NBC Montana that approximately 200 whitetail deer have died of unknown cause. A virus known as EHD (Epizootic hemorrhagic disease) is suspected, but lab tests won't return for roughly a week.

EHD is 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.