Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials have confirmed through a Georgia lab that nearly 400 Missoula-area deer have died of a virus known as EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease). The outbreak began in September, and the death toll nearly doubled in the past two weeks.
The majority of the deaths are centered in the Clark Fork River Valley west of Missoula. Core areas include the Harper’s Bridge area, and the Mill Creek area northeast of Frenchtown.
There have also been reports of suspected EHD cases in the Rattlesnake and near the University of Montana, though biologists say that those are random pop-ups, rather than their own separate outbreaks.
EHD is naturally caused, though this is the first recorded case in western Montana. The condition creates hemorrhaging that can cause death in whitetail deer. The dead animals are mostly found near water, because they usually head to water sources to help deal with a virus-caused high fever.
The illness is not contagious from one animal to another, and it is not transmissible to humans. If hunters bag an infected deer, the meat is still safe to eat. Livestock can sometimes catch EHD, though they rarely show symptoms or die.
FWP crews say a hard freeze will kill off the EHD-spreading midge, though it’s not known when a cold enough freeze is forecast. Due to an incubation period, dead deer may continue to appear up to two weeks after the freeze.
FWP crews are considering instating hunting restrictions to help the deer numbers recover, though it’s too early to tell what restrictions could take place.