Update on EHD Outbreak in Southwest Region

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Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross today released updated figures showing that four deer found dead in Greene and Washington counties tested positive for epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). A total of eight deer were submitted to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) at the University of Georgia for testing.

In addition, three of the deer tested negative for EHD and test results for the last deer are pending.

"Failure to isolate the EHD virus does not rule out EHD as a cause of death for the three deer," said Dr. Richard W. Gerhold, SCWDS diagnostician. "Given the proximity of these three deer to the others that tested positive for EHD, as well as other symptoms present, it is likely that EHD was the cause of death."

On Nov. 1, the Game Commission released the first test result of a deer found dead in Franklin Township, Greene County, that showing that it tested positive for EHD. This marked the first time the disease was confirmed in Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, EHD was confirmed in Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Since early-October, the Game Commission received reports of nearly 130 dead or dying deer in Greene and Washington counties.

"Hunters need to know that, according to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, EHD cannot be contracted by humans," Ross said. "There is no evidence that humans can acquire the disease by touching or field dressing a deer. In addition, there is no evidence the EHD virus is spread through consumption of venison, or that the meat is even affected.

"However, as a precaution, hunters should only shoot animals that appear healthy and behave normally, and hunters always should wear rubber or latex gloves when handling or field dressing an animal, and wash hands and tools thoroughly after field dressing. And, as with any wild game, always cook meat thoroughly."

EHD is a common disease in white-tailed deer populations of the United States, and is contracted by the bite of insects called "biting midges." In northern states, EHD usually kills the animal within five to 10 days, but is not spread from deer to deer by contact. While EHD is not infectious to humans, deer displaying severe symptoms of EHD may not be suitable for consumption.

Ross stressed that even though some EHD symptoms are similar to those of chronic wasting disease (CWD) - such as excessive drooling, unconsciousness and a loss of fear of humans - there is no relationship between EHD and CWD.

Ross also pointed out that the EHD outbreak should have been squelched by the recent cold weather and icing conditions, which will kill the insects that spread the disease. Unlike CWD, EHD is a seasonal disease and the affected local deer herd will rebound quickly.

"The good news from this situation is that the public is reporting these sightings to the Game Commission," Ross said. "Should the state's deer herd be infected with more serious diseases, the Game Commission will need to rely on the continued vigilance of the public so that we can respond in a timely manner."

Matt Hough, Game Commission Southwest Region Law Enforcement Supervisor, urged residents to continue to report unusual sightings by calling the region's toll-free number (1-877-877-7137). The Southwest Region serves Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Residents in other counties are encouraged to call toll-free numbers in their respective regions.

In 1996, EHD was suspected to be the cause of death in nearly 25 deer in Adams County. Test results in that case were inconclusive.