Whitetails face a plethora of threats. Urbanization, habitat destruction, disease, predation and numerous other things continue to impact deer. And right now, Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is impacting several states in the East.
EHD is not spread from deer-to-deer. Instead, it is spread through infected midges, also referred to as no-see-ums. Not all midges carry the EHD virus, but those that do can potentially infect deer. And when you find one case, there are generally more cases found nearby.
That said, this is a very localized disease and can be very prevalent in one spot and virtually non-existent in another close-by location. Just because it significantly affects the deer herd on one farm doesn’t mean it will affect the neighboring, and sometimes even bordering, properties around it.
“Hemorrhagic disease (HD), a vector-borne disease of white-tailed deer (WTD, Odocoileus virginianus), is caused by two related orb viruses, epizootic hemorrhagic disease virus (EHDV) and bluetongue virus (BTV). In the United States, clinical HD is generally reported in late summer and early fall and is thought to correlate with vector activity. In southern latitudes, where prevalence of EHD virus antibodies is high because of frequent and diverse serotype exposure, most infections result in mild or unapparent disease. Antibody prevalence is low in northern and western states where outbreaks are infrequent and are characterized by severe clinical disease and mortality, including Kentucky, where periodic outbreaks are reported.”
It’s fairly easy to identify a deer with EHD. Some common behaviors and symptoms follow:
High fevers (panting with tongue out)
Heavy swelling of the head and neck
Walking in circles
Unafraid of humans
Found in or near water
Currently, the eastern states with reports of EHD include Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It seems to be the most prevalent in the Appalachian range and is now spreading (mostly) northward and westward. Of these, Kentucky has been affected the most. As of August 16, 244 official cases had been found in 34 Kentucky counties. The actual number is likely much higher and will continue to spread until the first frost.
Common belief is that EHD is more likely to impact deer during times of drought. But this year, many of the affected areas have received significant portions of rainfall. So it’s becoming more clear that drought may not play as large of a role as once believed. While some products are currently being tested, there are no known treatments that can be applied on a reasonable and effective scale to prevent EHD from affecting wild deer herds. Nonetheless, the disease will continue to spread until the first frost hits and kills the biting midge flies. Then, and only then, will the spread of EHD completely subside for the year.
For those who’ve been affected by the disease, or are near areas that have been, don’t lose all hope. Even in the most severe cases, generally only 25 percent of the herd is lost. And again, just because it’s heavily affected a county or community, doesn’t mean it affected the specific location where you hunt. Also, some deer are immune to the virus and have developed anti-bodies to the disease. And not all deer that contract the disease will die from it.
Many deer contract EHD and live. Oftentimes, deer that do will exhibit sloughing of the hooves, which will appear enlarged, cracked and gnarly. In areas where the disease has been concentrated, it will not be uncommon to witness such deer. Unlike some other diseases, it is safe to eat a deer that has/had EHD. No research has shown that the virus can be spread to humans or pets. Even direct bites from a midge fly carrying the disease is of no known threat to animals other than deer.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.