LEWISTON _ Gnats that are spreading a deadly deer disease may be killing livestock, too.
Bill and Shirley Brewer in the Kamiah area are doctoring their sick ewes and lambs in the hope no more will die. They already have lost four animals.
Sheep there have been tested for blue tongue disease, an illness similar to epizootic hemorrhagic disease, EHD, that has killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of deer in the Clearwater region.
Blue tongue has not been isolated, but blood tests taken from sheep have revealed the presence of antibodies associated with blue tongue.
Sheep in at least two herds are showing such symptoms. Blue tongue can be deadly or it can merely make infected animals sick with flu-like symptoms. There are more than 20 strains.
"It could tip over the sheep just like it is doing with the deer right now," said Mark Drew, the state veterinarian who works for the departments of Agriculture and Fish and Game. "If not, it can cause symptoms, but not a lot of mortality."
Drew has taken tissue samples from one of Brewer's sheep that died recently. Tests to confirm the presence of the disease will take up to 10 days to process.
Brewer said about half of his flock is showing symptoms consistent with blue tongue. They include swollen faces, bleeding mouths, sore feet, droopy ears, nasal discharge and mild pneumonia.
"They say it doesn't kill the animals," Brewer said. "We have four dead ones to prove it does kill them.
"If you can keep them alive for two weeks they will live through it, but you've got to basically hand-feed them, and hand-water them and then you have to fight the pneumonia," Brewer said.
Deer carry the EHD disease, while sheep and blue tongue can contract blue tongue. Both strains are spread by gnats.
Drew and Fish and Game officials say at least 1,000 deer have died and perhaps more.
The disease is believed to be responsible for deer deaths throughout the region. The gnats breed in water and are found around ponds, seeps or even leaking water troughs. The disease cannot be spread to humans.