Bluetongue (BT) is an insect-transmitted, economically important disease of domestic and wild ruminants. Although only five of the 26 reported bluetongue virus (BTV) serotypes are considered endemic to the USA, 10 exotic serotypes have been isolated primarily in the southeastern region of the country since 1999. For an exotic BTV serotype to become endemic there must be susceptible animal species and competent vectors. In the USA, sheep and white-tailed deer (WTD) are the primary sentinel livestock and wildlife species, respectively. In 2006, BTV-8 was introduced into Northern Europe and subsequently overwintered, causing unprecedented livestock disease and mortality during the 2006-2007 vector seasons. To assess the risk of the European strain of BTV-8 to North American WTD, and understand the role they could play after a similar introduction, eight bluetongue-seronegative WTD were inoculated with BTV-8. Body temperatures and clinical signs were recorded daily. Blood samples were analyzed for BTV RNA with quantitative real time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR), serum analyzed for BTV antibodies by cELISA, and tissues taken for histopathology and qRT-PCR. All eight deer became infected and developed moderate to severe clinical disease from days 8 to 15. Peak viremia was from day 7 to 10 with detectable titers through the end of the study (28 days) in most deer. Serum antibody was detected by day 6, peaked by day 10 and continued through day 28. We conclude that North American WTD are highly susceptible to BTV-8 and would act as clinical disease sentinels and amplifying hosts during an outbreak.
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