Hemorrhagic Disease Strikes Deer Herd

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Hunters and citizens in Central and Eastern North Carolina are reporting dead and dying deer in noticeable numbers.

The culprit for this deer die-off is hemorrhagic disease, often known as blue tongue or black tongue. Hemorrhagic disease is one of the most important infection diseases of white-tailed deer and outbreaks are seen almost every year somewhere in the Southeast. Two closely related viruses?epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) virus and bluetongue virus?cause hemorrhagic disease and both are spread by biting flies, called midges.

"A dry summer followed by wet weather late in the season can cause a surge in the midge population," says Evin Stanford, the Wildlife Resources Commission's deer biologist. "We had similar weather patterns in past hemorrhagic disease outbreak years- 1939, 1955, 1961, 1971, 1976, 1988, 1994, 1999, and 2000. During these outbreaks, 10-20% of the deer herd died and we could expect the same for this year. Several factors may impact the severity of the outbreak, particularly the potency of the virus, immunity levels of individual deer and the number of midges."

So far this summer, hemorrhagic disease has appeared in 27 N.C. counties, mostly in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain. This outbreak is affecting the deer herd from Georgia to Virginia.

"There is nothing that can be done to prevent outbreaks or the spread of the disease," according to Evin Stanford. "The disease can occur in deer herds of high or low density, even though the mortality rate is often greater in high-density herds. The disease will run a natural course and probably subside after the first frost."

Symptoms of hemorrhagic disease in deer vary widely. Some animals will exhibit no symptoms at all. Others may appear bloated, very thin, weak, and have foot, mouth, and internal lesions. High fever associated with the disease can make deer thirsty, so dead and dying deer are often found near water.

There are no human health implications with HD and hunters should not worry about dressing deer or eating venison. Humans do not contract hemorrhagic disease from deer, nor from the bite of an infected midge. The two hemorrhagic disease viruses are specific to ruminants, including deer, sheep, antelope, cattle, goats and sheep. Most livestock animals do not show signs of infection; however, sheep infected with the bluetongue virus can get severely ill. Deer that recover from an episode of hemorrhagic disease are immune for life.

Citizens who would like to report a sick deer can call the Wildlife Management office at 919-733-7291.