By Ang Gilchrist
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) continues to kill deer across Nebraska, with over 4,768 reported deaths attributed to the disease in the past few weeks. The acute, infectious, viral disease is often fatal and is spread by biting flies called midges, sand flies, or sand gnats. Not to be confused with bluetongue, a similar hemorrhagic disease seen throughout North America, as the two are antigenically different.
Although the disease has been around for decades, (with the earliest reports dating back to 1886), this years outbreak seems to be significant according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. South Dakota has also attributed over 900 unexplained deer deaths since September to EHD.
The EHD seems to primarily affect the white-tail deer population, although cases have been reported in mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn and even cattle. Common symptoms seen in affected white-tailed deer show up about 7 days after exposure and include loss of appetite, fear of man, excessive salivating, rapid pulse, ulcers/lesions near the mouth, and fever. The majority of the dead deer are found near water sources, as they seek to cool off their body temperatures. They sometimes show signs of bleeding from the eyes, nose, and mouth. All documented cases of EHD have been reported during late summer and early fall, and they cease with the first onset of frost.
The EHD virus does not infect humans or pets, and humans are not at risk for handling or consuming venison from infected deer.
In the past month there have been 10 confirmed cases of EHD in cattle throughout Nebraska, along with similar cases in South Dakota, eastern Wyoming, and western Iowa. The disease is not spread from the deer to cattle directly, but it does cross to cattle through insect bites from midges, gnats, and mosquitoes.
Affected cattle show signs of fever, swollen eyes, ulcers on the mouth, lameness, reproductive problems and labored breathing. Many of the symptoms can mimic Vesicular Stomatitis and/or Foot and Mouth Disease, and further testing is needed to diagnose the disease. Deaths in cattle are uncommon and are usually seen during extremely warm weather conditions when dehydration is more common. Livestock producers are encouraged to contact their local veterinarian if they suspect EHD in their herds.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission continues to track the extent of the disease and its effects on the current deer population, but is not considering changes to the November firearm or muzzleloader seasons. According to their website, the Commission will consider reductions in 2012 antlerless deer permits at the October 26 meeting of the Board of Commissioners in North Platte. If changes are approved, they will go into effect after the commission meeting. All permits purchased prior to the approved changes will remain valid.
If a hunter harvests a deer that they suspect has EHD, he or she can bring the carcass to a Game and Parks office or Conservation Officer and request revalidation of their permit. Any deer deaths that may be attributed to EHD should be reported to the nearest Game and Parks office: Alliance (308) 763-2940.
By Ang Gilchrist