Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, commonly called EHD, is again showing up in Virginia. This is the time of year when it is often first discovered. It seems to start in mid to late summer. People begin finding dead white-tailed deer as they begin prepping hunting areas for the fall.
The photo above shows an EHD-afflicted deer in King George County a few years ago. The deer, obviously distressed with a swollen tongue extending from its mouth, bedded for several hours before moving off. I was certain the deer would be found dead somewhere close by the next morning, likely along a nearby spring-fed creek. A couple of expansive searches, though, turned up nothing. Maybe she survived. Some deer do.
This week, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources issued a release saying that EHD had been reported in multiple counties. The report stated that reliable reports of dead deer had been received.
Counties thus far include Chesterfield, Cumberland, Essex, Franklin, Halifax, Madison, Orange, Patrick, Prince Edward, Rockbridge, Suffolk (City of), Surry and Sussex. Deer Program Manager Nelson Lafon tells me, "DWR has received reports since mid-July, but this should be looked at as a minimum distribution. It appears the southwest Piedmont around Patrick County is where the biggest concentration has come from thus far."
So, what is hemorrhagic disease? Sadly, it's a common infectious disease of white-tailed deer. Outbreaks occur annually throughout the Southeastern United States. Recent years have seen outbreaks in other regions, including the Midwest. In Virginia, most outbreaks are seen east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's an insidious viral disease, transmitted by small biting flies, commonly known as biting gnats or midges. Outbreaks typically continue until the first frost kills these insects.
People usually find otherwise healthy looking deer dead or dying close to or lying in the cooler soils of wetlands or near creeks, streams, rivers and ponds. Deer are good swimmers so a dead deer in a pond is likely an EHD victim. Deer run an extremely high fever and, in their near delirium, they seek out cool water. Afflicted deer also have sloughed or cracked hooves. One good way of spotting EHD survivors is to inspect every deer's hooves after harvest. You can often see evidence of a sloughed or damaged hoof in various stages of healing.
According to DWR, the disease poses no threat to humans or domestic pets such as dogs and cats. Hunters are not at risk from handling or eating venison from infected deer. Even so, deer that act or look obviously sick, either as a result of HD or another infectious disease, should not be consumed.
DWR asks people seeing observed sick or deceased deer to report the observations. Do not attempt to contact, disturb, kill, or remove the animal. Report the approximate location of the animal to the Wildlife Helpline at (855) 571-9003 or call or email the local wildlife biologist. A map of the district wildlife biologists and their contact information may be found at DMAP PDF . If you send an email, please list the county, the community or area, and the number of deer involved (e.g., six deceased deer along the Big Otter River in the Lowry community of Bedford County). The Department annually maintains records of HD mortality reports documenting the location and approximate number of animals involved. Except for extenuating circumstances, the HD report will not result in an on-site visit by Department staff.