Several people in Indiana and Kentucky have reported finding dead deer, and their is a suspicion the cause may be EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease).
Approximately 20 dead deer recently were found in Putnam County, Indiana, plus several in Morgan County, and there have been some reports from readers related to western Kentucky and southern Illinois.
Some of the Indiana deer have been examined by state wildlife officials, but at the time of this writing, no official cause of death had been reported, although EHD is suspected. One sample from Morgan County was sent to the Center for Disease Control in Georgia, but results have not been reported.
The virus, called EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease), seems to occur every few years in white-tailed deer, and is not infectious to humans. However, it may mean hunters in some areas may see fewer deer during the upcoming hunting seasons.
There was a serious outbreak of EHD in at least six midwestern states--including Kentucky--in 2007. Southwestsern Indiana was hit hard.
EHD is caused by a virus and outbreaks seem to occur every two or three years. While in some severe cases, up to a third of the herd in an area may succumb to the disease, the deaths don’t have any long term negative impact on the numbers of deer.
The disease is spread by biting flies, also known as sand gnats, sand flies or no-see-ums.
Outbreaks usually happen in late summer and early fall because of the increased presence of these biting gnats. Although deer affected with the acute form of EHD are most most often seen during this period, deer with chronic cases can be found during winter.
Signs of the disease depend on the strength of the virus and length of the infection in the animal. Hemorrhagic disease causes fever, labored breathing and swelling of the head, neck tongue and eyelids. Infected deer may die within 72 hours or they may slowly deteriorate for months from lameness and starvation.
Drought conditions this summer may be contributing to the current reoccurrence. During drought conditions water holes that remain have a higher level of salinity (salt) than normal. This water with increased salt makes ideal conditions for the gnats to reproduce in higher numbers.
Squirrel seasons opens Aug. 15 and, archery deer season open in a little more than a month, so, hunters may find more dead deer. And while EHD can not be transmitted to humans, biologists say hunters should avoid eating any deer that appear to be infected.
EHD should not be confused with the unrelated brain disease, chronic wasting disease (CWD), which has never been found in Indiana.
EHD usually affects local deer populations until a few hard freezes kill the biting midges that spread the disease.