Bighorn sheep are exhibiting the “visual signs” of the orf virus on the National Elk Refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is awaiting lab verification, but believe the virus is the cause.
The common name of the virus is contagious ecthyma and, on the infected sheep, means “scabby sores around their lips, muzzle and in their mouth,” according to Buckrail. Healthy bighorn sheep will usually recover from the visual symptoms of the virus within three to six weeks; however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) warns that “infected sheep can be more vulnerable to dangerous secondary infections” and that the virus appears to be widespread.
Humans can contract the virus if they come in contact with an infected animal or contaminated equipment. For example, if a bighorn sheep on the National Elk Refuge decided to lick salt off a car, humans could potentially become infected if they touch the same area.
“Do your part to stop the spread of orf virus by keeping your vehicle moving when animals are present on the road, honking your horn or slapping the side of your vehicle to encourage animals to move off of the roadway, and immediately relocating your vehicle to a different parking area if approached by sheep,” said FWS.