Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease

Most of us have heard of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), but how many of us really know what it is? Dave Campbell takes a closer look.

Most of us have heard of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), but how many of us really know what it is? I did some research on the disease, spurred by a notice that the whitetail deer herd around my place has been affected by EHD recently.

EHD is a virus from the Orbivirus family. It is transmitted to deer via a biological vector—a fancy term that means it is transmitted via another species, in this case gnats, midges and to some degree mosquitoes. Deer cannot transmit it to each other. It has been found in virtually all the deer and pronghorn species of the western hemisphere, as well as much of the rest of the world. The disease can show signs in as little as seven days after exposure. Symptoms include a loss of appetite, loss of fear of humans, weakness, excessive salivation and heartbeat, rapid respiration and a fever that often drives the infected animal to a water source where it lays down in the water in an attempt to cool itself. Many times the animal dies in that water, and its decaying body can render the water unfit for other animals.

Domestic cattle can be infected by EHD, though it is rarely fatal to livestock. It can, however, affect body weight, which is why ranchers keep an eye out for the disease. EHD is not transmittable to humans, and eating the meat of an infected animal will not harm people.

The disease tends to run in waves and is most noticeable when there is a relatively high deer population combined with a wet spring and summer. It can wipe out an entire year’s age class of deer.

Here’s a couple more tidbits of information relating to EHD: Epizootic refers to a widespread infection. EHD is often incorrectly referred to as Bluetongue disease; while they may be similar in symptoms and cause, they are actually two separate diseases.

There is no known way to prevent EHD outbreaks, and there is no known practical cure for an infected deer. Nonetheless, hunters can help their state wildlife agencies by taking suspected deer carcasses to those agencies for sampling. If your deer has lesions on its skin or hoof abnormalities, or if it exhibited strange behaviors before you killed it, that animal is suspect. Get it checked out before you process it.

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