Bluetongue Virus Found in Deer for First Time in NJ

October 13, 2014 | Energy & Environment, Health Care

By Christie Duffy

It’s the first time the disease has been found in deer in our state. Two have been killed by it. One in Somerset and the other in Morris County. The virus is called bluetongue.

“I think the telltale thing would be the swollen face and lips and the tongue hanging out and it looking very blue. It’s kind of just that blood supply thing that happens,” said Wild Baby Rescue Center owner Hope Koch-Davison. “They are having difficulty breathing.”

Koch-Davison runs Wild Baby Rescue Center in Warren County. She rescues all kinds of wild animals from squirrels to possum and deer.

She says she got a call last night about a deer suspected to have bluetongue disease.

“From some people, a group of women, who had found deer on the side of the road. It was walking in circles and it was frothing from the mouth,” Koch-Davison said.

A swollen mouth and nose, trouble breathing and a swollen purple tongue are key signs of the disease. The state has issued an advisory to farmers or anyone who owns livestock.

In a statement, the director of the State Division of Fish and Wildlife said, “The bluetongue virus is widely distributed in the United States, but has not been previously found in deer in New Jersey. [Bluetongue is] spread to animals by the bite of a certain type of midge… The bites of the midge can transmit bluetongue to certain types of livestock.”

Koch-Davison, who is also a registered nurse, says she was skeptical that the deer she got a call about had bluetongue. She says a state conservationist took over from there.

“As far as I know, the state took possession of it. I asked if it was bluetongue this morning and they told me no. He said it was another neurological disease,” she said.

Livestock or deer who appear to have bluetongue disease should be reported to the Department of Agriculture or the Division of Fish and Wildlife bureau.

People cannot be infected by bluetongue disease, even if bitten by the little bugs that cause it in deer, that according to the state Division of Fish and Wildlife. They do advise, though, that hunters not eat the meat of any animal that appears ill.