Although plague is relatively rare in wild ungulates, this report describes ocular lesions associated with Yersinia pestis infection in three free-ranging mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) from Wyoming and Oregon, USA. All deer were observed antemortem and seemed to be blind. Post-mortem examination revealed gross lesions of bilateral keratoconjunctivitis and/or panophthalmitis in the first two deer, but only partial retinal detachment in the third deer. Microscopically, all deer had moderate-to-severe necrotizing and fibrinopurulent endophthalmitis and varying degrees of keratoconjunctivitis with abundant intralesional coccobacilli. The lesions in the first (D1) and third deer (D3) suggested an acute course, whereas those in the second deer (D2) were subacute to chronic. Yersinia pestis was isolated from ocular tissue swabs or ocular fluids of D1 and D2, and it was demonstrated by immunohistochemistry within ocular lesions of D1 and D3. Although plague does not seem to be a major cause of morbidity or mortality in free-ranging mule deer, keratoconjunctivitis or pinkeye is relatively common in these animals and plague should be considered as a differential diagnosis in such cases, with appropriate precautions taken to protect the human and animal health.
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Vol. 44 • No. 4