Deer disease EHD hitting local herds

This young male deer recently was found dead in northern Hancock County. It’s believed to have succumbed to Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), a deadly deer virus. The disease can wipe out large quantities of deer and is a concern for local farmers and hunters. (Photo courtesy of Mike Ludovici)

It’s still a little early to tell how hard the deer population will be hit in this region due to the recent outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD). Many dead deer have been found across this area recently, and hunters are getting concerned.

Wildlife officials from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have confirmed several cases of what appears to be EHD. Some deer have been tested and officials from all three states reported last week that EHD is present.

Since many dead and sick-looking deer have been found recently, most near water, it points to another outbreak of EHD. West Virginia DNR Wildlife Biologist Jim Crum said the deer usually die quickly (5-10 days) after getting bitten by a midge 2-3 times. He calls them “blood meals,” where the midge (tiny, fly-like insects) bite the deer multiple times, sometimes laying eggs, and pass along the deadly virus.

EHD can not be passed from deer to deer or be transferred to humans or other animals. All deer, any age, male or female, can get infected with the disease. It causes a high fever and extreme hemorrhaging in deer. In many cases the infection is deadly. Some deer, if exposed from year to year, may become immune to the disease.

EHD has been prevalent in the south for years, but, according the Crum, the disease is spreading north. The most severe cases in this region last hit in 2007, when large sweeps of deer were found dead. The last noted outbreak was in 2012. Crum said West Virginia’s eastern panhandle, near Virginia, was hardest hit then.

Crum said the weather plays a big part in the appearance of the tiny midges. Dry summer conditions foster existence. So, for bowhunters in the this region, they must be aware of the potential of seeing sick deer. It’s suggested not to eat the meat from a deer that has been infected with EHD.

Ohio DNR Wildlife Research Technician Laurie Graber, working out of the District 3 office in Akron (which includes Columbiana County), agrees the weather has played an important part in the appearance of the midges.

“Things are dry now, but I think the warmer temperatures this spring led to this,” said Graber. “It seems that every year we have problems, it’s just in different areas. Portage and Geauga counties were bad in 2012, this year it seems to be in Jefferson County.”

People in Columbiana County have been reporting several downed and sick deer the past few weeks. Photos of dead and sick deer from the county have also been appearing on Facebook pages. One photo showed a local hunter petting a small sick fawn found alone and struggling to hold its head up.

ODNR Wildlife Officer Jesse Janosik, who covers Columbiana County, said he’s had reports of dead and sick deer in the county, but only one has been tested so far. That report came back negative though.

“We are hearing of dead deer out there,” he said. “I think some areas in Beaver County (Pa.) have been hit harder though, from what I’m hearing.”

Graber said her office has received some reports of dead deer from Columbiana County, and Geauga and Trumbull counties, but Jefferson County is taking the biggest hit.

“On my door is a list of calls I’ve received (about dead deer) and our front desk has received a bunch of calls too, both of bucks and does,” she said. “Jefferson County has been hit the hardest, by far. Right now we have at least 111 reports from Jefferson (County).”

Both Crum and Garber said the threat of this disease will not end until this area gets a good fall frost on the ground. Something that eliminates the midges, as they cannot tolerate cold temperatures.

Garber said the DNR will continue to monitor the situation on EHD cases, but that’s really all they can do. She said deer hunting seasons would not be cut or changed due to the outbreak.

“No, we have to leave it be and let nature take its course,” said Garber. “We wouldn’t do that. We wouldn’t know what areas would be affected. On one farm many of the deer could be gone and the farm next to that would not be affected. That wouldn’t be fair.”

One area that appears to be hit hard already from EHD is in the northern part of Hancock County.

Mike Ludovici, who owns a farm just off of state Route 8 in New Manchester, says he has been dealing with a stench of dead deer for about three weeks. He’s found several dead and sick deer near his home, he said, adding a friend pulled one dead buck from his pond last week.

Crum said of the reports his office in Elkins has received, Hancock County appears to be one of the hardest hit in West Virginia. They have tested one dead deer from Hancock, but test results have not been released.

Garber said the Ohio DNR will normally test only one deer for the disease from each county. When reports come in about dead deer found in a decomposing state, with blood coming from its mouth and nostrils, it’s a pretty good bet that the cause of death is from EHD.

Garber said tests will only be taken on deer that has died in the last 24 hours before sampling. She said the deer that tested positive for EHD last week from Lorain County, she was the technician who took the sample.

“We received a call about a dead deer in a pond from Lorain County. That was on a Sunday, by Monday I was up there and we pulled the deer from the water,” said Garber.

Of the dead deer found by Ludovici around his farm recently, one offered a most gruesome reminder of how nature works, and doesn’t in some cases. Ludovici found, and photographed, one dead buck that had been decaying for several days, melting into the earth with what he described as “three inches of maggots” — blanketing the dead carcass.

According to some hunters, a normal dead deer carcass found in the woods would be picked clean by wild scavengers including coyotes, possum, fox, vultures, crows, eagles and more. And in this case, only flies (and later maggots) devoured the diseased carcass.

For information purposes, EHD is not to be confused with Chronic Waste Disease (CWD). CWD is another disease that deadly affects whitetail deer, along with elk. That syndrome attacks the animal’s central nervous system and deteriorates the brain. CWD can spread from deer to deer through direct contact or with saliva, urine, feces, blood or deer parts or infected materials in soil. Those conditions can allow the disease to spread across a wide area and be transported by live deer or infected parts. CWD can also be in an infected deer or elk for 1-2 years. It’s always fatal. EHD infected deer can survive and recover.

To date Chronic Waste Disease has not been found in any wild deer in Ohio. Testing for that serious disease has been done each year since CWD was found in several captive deer in 2014. The ODNR has tested hundreds of wild deer since a shooting preserve in Holmes County, Ohio, had 19 whitetail deer test positive for CWD.

Graber said any reports of dead deer suspected of having the EHD virus can be forwarded to the District 3 office in Akron by calling 330-644-2293. To file a report with Columbiana County’s officer Janosik, leave a voicemail message at 330-245-3039. In Hancock County, W.Va., contact Wildlife Officer Josh Allison at 304-546-6201.

For more information about EHD, visit the ODNR website at www.ohiodnr.gov or WVDNR website at www.wvdnr.gov. Another excellent source on the topic comes from the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study by The University of Georgia; visit http://vet.uga.edu/population–health–files/hemorrhagic-disease-brochure-2013.pdf.


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