Black-tailed deer are turning up dead in several rural Jackson County communities in what wildlife officials fear is a new outbreak of a disease associated with backyard feeding that killed hundreds of area deer earlier this decade.

Black-tailed deer are turning up dead in several rural Jackson County communities in what wildlife officials fear is a new outbreak of a disease associated with backyard feeding that killed hundreds of area deer earlier this decade.

Confirmed and suspected cases of the adenovirus have been found recently outside of Ashland, in the Colestine Valley, rural Gold Hill and outside of Jacksonville, in the highest numbers since 2002, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The highly contagious, quick-killing disease killed "easily hundreds, probably over 1,000" blacktails that summer and fall alone, but no exact estimates of the die-off were known, said Mark Vargas, the ODFW's Rogue District wildlife biologist in Central Point.

"We've seen more now than we've seen since 2002, and I hope it doesn't get worse," Vargas said. "We're hoping it doesn't turn into a big die-off, but we don't know.

"Definitely, we know it's not good," Vargas said.

Similar outbreaks of the disease also are occurring around Bend, and most outbreaks are associated with people setting out food and water for wildlife, said Collin Gillin, the ODFW's state veterinarian who tracks the disease.

The virus can spread as easily as breathing air from an infected animal, so water buckets and grain piles placed by well-intentioned landowners can turn into viral hot-spots that can kill groups of deer in days.

"Congregating deer through feeding is just going to spread it," Gillin said. "It's exacerbating the issue. It's not helping.

"The best thing humans can do is, don't do anything to bring deer together."

First diagnosed in Northern California in the mid-1990s, adenovirus hemorrhagic disease now is believed to have been responsible in the late 1980s for killing hundreds of deer whose deaths originally were attributed to a different disease known as bluetongue.

Infected deer can suffer from bloody diarrhea that can scour the animal or mouth lesions that keep it from feeding.

In some cases, ODFW biologist Steve Niemela said, the deer suffer massive internal hemorrhaging discovered only in field necropsies.

In recent cases, field necropsies revealed a liter or more of liquid in their lungs, Niemela said.

"We're finding more deer described as in good condition other than the fact that they're lying there dead," Niemela said.

Preliminary tests on samples from a deer found dead June 16 near Colestine concluded adenovirus. Not all suspected cases were tested, but the symptoms were similar, he said.

Humans and pets are not considered vulnerable to the virus. While the adenovirus has similar strains affecting cattle and sheep, there are no known instances of the virus spreading from deer to other species.

Placing food or water outside for wildlife is not illegal in Oregon, though a handful of cities, such as Philomath, have adopted anti-feeding ordinances.

Jacksonville considered such an ordinance earlier this year after a ruminitis outbreak was linked to artificial feed, but the city instead has urged residents to stop feeding deer.

"I'm really hoping this doesn't turn into the kind of outbreaks we've had before," Niemela said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.