Deadly Deer Disease ‘Worse than normal’ This Summer

Deer that succumb to EHD are often found in creek bottoms near sources of water. (Photo: Richard Simms)

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) offices are receiving reports of dead deer in scattered areas of the state. The die-off seems especially worse in East Tennessee, according to TWRA Region III Biologist Ben Layton. The timing and details of the reports are all indicative of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD).

“It is definitely worse than normal this summer,” said Layton. We’ve heard numerous reports from at least ten counties, most on the Cumberland Plateau. But I know there have been several other reports from other parts of East Tennessee.”

Reports indicate dead deer in at least 20 counties with more expected as the season progresses. The last major outbreak of EHD in Tennessee was in 2007. Layton said that year there were reports from 88 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

EHD occurs at varying levels of severity virtually every year in Tennessee’s deer herd. According to officials in Athens, Ga., at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, the outbreak being experienced appears to be a part of a larger multi-state outbreak involving several nearby states.

“So far the intensity of the outbreak seems to be localized,” said Roger Applegate, Wildlife Health Program Leader for TWRA. “We don’t anticipate this outbreak to rival that of 2007, but it is still early and we’re actively monitoring the situation.”

EHD is caused by a virus that is transmitted to deer from biting midges commonly known by hunters as “no-seeums” because they are so small they’re hard to see, although they have an irritating bite. Layton said, however, there is no danger of transmission of the disease to humans or even domestic animals. EHD seems mostly confined to deer populations.

The virus causes fever, respiratory distress, and swelling of the neck or tongue. Most dead deer are found near water sources. Not all deer exposed to the virus will die, but those that do usually do so within 5 to 10 days of exposure. Incidence of EHD usually peaks around mid-September and is usually done by mid-October with the onset of cold weather.

Hunters can often identify deer that contract, but survive the disease because their hooves will be deformed.

“Although some of the clinical symptoms are similar, it is important to not confuse HD with CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease),” said James Kelly, TWRA Deer Management Program Leader. “Unlike CWD, EHD is a virus and deer can survive infection. It comes and goes at varying levels of severity much like the flu does for humans. CWD, on the other hand, is actually a much greater concern because the causative agents known as prions persist in the environment and in deer populations indefinitely.”

Fortunately, CWD has not been detected in Tennessee, and intensive surveillance will continue this fall by TWRA biologists and agency partners for this neurological and always fatal disease.

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