Hundreds of deer have died in northern Indiana and southern Michigan from an apparent ailment fueled by this summer’s unusually dry conditions.
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, has been confirmed in Marshall and LaGrange Counties of northern Indiana and Berrien, Cass and St. Joseph Counties of southern Michigan. It’s also suspected in Elkhart County. Outbreaks of the disease appear to be widespread across Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Kentucky, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Animals afflicted with the disease typically run a fever that causes them to seek water, meaning their bodies are often found near ponds, lakes and creeks.
“Our list is over 40 counties (in Indiana) now where it has been reported or suspected in deer,” said Indiana Department of Natural Resources biologist Chad Stewart.
Although reports from the public to the DNR of dead deer were consistent with EHD episodes of past years, Stewart was careful until lab tests were complete to rule out the possibility of bluetongue, a disease similar to EHD that affects mainly sheep but also cattle, goats, deer and other mammals.
The final lab report was received this week from the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia. Other samples were tested at Purdue University.
Stewart says the tests confirmed two strains of the virus – EHD V-2 and EHD V-6.
“10 years ago, we didn’t have the EHD V-6 strain in Indiana,” said Stewart. “It’s just recently been documented, so it’s still relatively new on the landscape. It may be an explanation for some of these harder hit pockets.
With hunting season on the horizon, the deaths could create challenges for deer hunters.
“If it’s not as bad this year as it was in 2007, it’s getting close,” said Stewart, noting an outbreak 5 years ago when EHD was reported in 59 Indiana counties and confirmed by lab tests in 17.
EHD is a non-contagious virus that likely affects white-tailed deer every year. Severity and distribution of the disease is highly variable and unpredictable. It typically occurs during late summer and early fall. There is evidence that outbreaks may be worse during drought years.
EHD is not transmitted from deer to deer but instead by flies commonly known as biting midges. Deer infected with EHD may appear depressed or feverish. They often seek comfort in or around water. Other signs may include blue-tinted tongue or eyes, ulcers on the tongue, sloughed hooves, or an eroded dental pad.
Hemorrhagic disease is often fatal to deer, but some will survive the illness. Not every deer will contract hemorrhagic disease, which can be present or absent in any area. Death losses during an outbreak can range from negligible to greater than 50 percent. Severe outbreaks rarely occur in subsequent years due to immunity gathered from previous infections.
The onset of freezing temperatures often brings a sudden halt to EHD outbreaks.
Humans are not at risk for contracting hemorrhagic disease.