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EHD in Deer: A Michigan Trend?

December 22nd, 2011

Sure, we’re all familiar with what to keep an eye out for in deer when it comes to bovine tuberculosis or chronic wasting disease, but what about the less “popular” epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) that was responsible for the death of an estimated 1,025 deer in 2010 in southwestern Michigan? Because of its very high mortality rate, EHD can have a significant effect upon the deer population in a local area, reducing numbers drastically.

According to the DNR website, Michigan has had deer die-offs attributed to EHD in 1974, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010. So far in 2011, at least 2 deer have been confirmed to have died of EHD in Cass County. Where there are two, there are probably more. But how do you know? Read on to learn how to identify a deer with EHD.

First, what is EHD and why can’t we just get rid of it?

EHD is an acute, infectious, often fatal viral disease of some wild ruminants. Characterized by extensive hemorrhages, it appears that only Michigan’s white-tailed deer populations have experienced the disease. It was identified in the 1950s and since then, die-off rates in Michigan have increased steadily throughout the years.

A small midge, specifically Culicoides, is responsible for EHD. The DNR believes Michigan is experiencing higher rates of EHD as a consequence of climate changes that favor the northward spread of these biting flies. The catch with EHD, at least thus far, is that there is no known effective treatment for, or control of the malady. Research indicates that it can be transmitted to other wild ruminants. Domestic animals, while able to be infected by the virus, rarely contract the disease. There is no present evidence that it can be transmitted to humans.

So, how to recognize it? Outbreaks are usually associated with drought and warm temperatures. A constant characteristic of the disease is its sudden onset. Deer initially lose their appetite and fear of humans, grow progressively weaker, salivate excessively, develop a rapid pulse and respiration rate and finally become unconscious. Due to a high fever, the deer often are found sick or dead along or in bodies of water.

Property owners who discover dead deer they suspect died of EHD should call the nearest DNR office to report it. MUCC is dedicated to reporting the progression of this disease, so stay tuned as more information is learned through the research of biology professionals.

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