Early this week, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials confirmed the deaths of several hundred deer in four western Pennsylvania counties. Dr. Walter Cottrell, PGC's wildlife veterinarian, says test results confirm that Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease is the likely cause.
So far, the deer losses have been confined to Allegheny, Beaver, Greene and Washington counties. But EHD deaths are also occurring in numerous other states, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.
EHD is contracted from "biting midges." In northern states, it usually kills the animal within 5 to 10 days. While it's not infectious to humans, deer displaying severe symptoms – excessive drooling, weakness and lack of fear of humans, they usually aren't suitable for consumption, says Cottrell.
"Hunters need to know that EHD cannot be contracted by humans," assures Cottrell. "It's also extremely rare, and highly unlikely, for this virus to cause clinical signs in cattle, sheep or goats." He also stresses that while some EHD symptoms are similar to those of chronic wasting disease, there's no relationship between EHD and CWD.
EHD can be amplified by anything that serves to congregate deer, such as supplemental feeding, he adds. "Such activities should be discontinued immediately."
While there's no evidence that humans can acquire the disease by field-dressing a deer, hunters are encouraged to wear rubber or latex gloves when handling or field-dressing an animal.
Quickly report deer losses
Tissue samples must be extracted within 24 hours of death for testing. That's why Cottrell urges reporting of losses to game offices as soon as possible.
The good news is that the EHD outbreak should end with the onset of colder weather, suggests Cottrell. For more information and updates, visit the agency's Web site: www.pgc.state.pa.us.