SALEM, Ohio – An outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease is killing deer in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Officials don’t have an exact count of how many deer have been affected, but Walter Cottrell, Pennsylvania Game Commission
wildlife veterinarian, said the number in his state could exceed 1,000.
Although EHD is often found in white-tailed deer in the eastern U.S., Cottrell said it’s less common in the states located farther north, making those deer more susceptible.
EHD poses no threat to human health, but deer can die within 36 hours of showing symptoms. Deer infected with EHD typically lose their appetites and show little fear of humans. They also become weak, salivate excessively and lose consciousness.
These symptoms are usually present five to 10 days after a deer becomes infected.
While some of the symptoms are similar to chronic wasting disease, Cottrell said the two diseases are not related.
How it spreads. EHD is spread through insects called biting midges. It doesn’t transfer from deer to deer or from deer to human.
EHD doesn’t typically show up in livestock, but it can happen, according to David Kohler, wildlife management supervisor with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. In fact, the disease has been confirmed in two cattle herds in Ohio’s Pike County this year. Although it is fatal to deer, Ohio Department of Agriculture officials said the disease will simply run its course, much like the common flu, in cows.
EHD doesn’t spread from deer to livestock or vice versa. A case of EHD in livestock simply means there are enough biting midges to spread the disease to species other than deer.
Cottrell said the first frost will kill the biting midges and stop the spread of EHD.
Pennsylvania experienced its first EHD outbreak in 2002 when the disease caused the death of 70 deer in Greene and Washington counties. Ohio’s most recent outbreak occurred in 2003 in Clermont and Brown counties. West Virginia has seen six outbreaks of EHD since 1981, with the last one in 2002.
Who to call. In Pennsylvania, residents who see dead or sick deer should report the animal to their regional game commission office. In Ohio, residents should report these sightings to their local wildlife officer. West Virginia residents should contact their district wildlife biologist.
The tissue of dead deer must be collected within 24 hours of the animal’s death in order to perform tests related to EHD.
Although humans cannot get EHD, wildlife officials don’t recommend eating the meat of any deer that appears unhealthy.
Stinky situation. Greene Township in Beaver County, Pa., has been hit particularly hard by EHD. Residents there say deer are dying by the dozens and they’ve been left to deal with the clean up.
“The game commission said it’s your responsibility as a property owner to get rid of it,” said Sandy Wright, the township’s secretary/treasurer.
Wright estimates there are more than 200 deer carcasses decaying throughout Greene Township, some of them in local streams and creeks. The decomposing carcasses in the water have raised concerns about contamination, but Wright said there’s no course of action for getting rid of them.
Even if the township volunteered to pick them up, it has no place to put them. And with all of the township’s residents relying on well water for drinking, there doesn’t seem to be a safe place to bury them, Wright said.
No plan. A spokesman at Pennsylvania’s Game Commission said he wasn’t sure of the process for getting rid of the carcasses. A message left at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection was not returned.
Rick Jasper, an Ohio wildlife management biologist, said landowners in his state also don’t have any good options when it comes to getting rid of the dead deer.
Calling it a “difficult situation,” Jasper said it’s “up to the landowner to either leave it in place and let nature take its course” or bury it, if that’s possible.
Where it’s at. So far this year, EHD has been confirmed in Beaver, Greene and Washington counties in Pennsylvania; Highland County in Ohio; and Monongalia, Marion, Hancock and Wayne counties in West Virginia.
Ohio has suspected cases of EHD in Athens, Hocking, Pike, Washington, Muskingum, Perry, Morgan, Gallia, Monroe, Ross, Belmont and Jackson counties. In Pennsylvania, deer from Allegheny, Cambria and Westmoreland counties are being tested for the disease. In West Virginia, samples are being tested in 12 counties.
Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia have also reported cases of EHD.
Animals like mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope are also at risk for contracting the disease.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at
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