Last weekend, my wife and I were up in the woods doing the annual trail mowing, and cutting up and removing the dead ash trees that have fallen across the paths, when on the way back down to the house, she spotted a dead deer laying in a swale a couple of hundred yards behind the barn. I must have passed it several times, so apparently her powers of observation are greater than mine.
Upon closer examination, we observed that it was a dead buck, of decent body size with an 8-point rack that would have looked pretty if it did not have five points on one side and three on the other.
It had been dead for too long to examine it closely, and scavengers (presumably coyotes) had dragged it a short ways from where it had died. There were no wounds or anything to indicate it had been shot by a bowhunter, so judging from location and the condition of the carcass, we presumed it had died of EHD – or Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease.
The EHD virus is not infectious to people and is not spread from animal to animal. It is transmitted by the bite of small midges, and infections are often seen in Ohio in late summer and early fall up through the first frost, which kills the midges. So the outbreak should be over by the time of the rut, and definitely by the Ohio’s deer gun season later in November.
Once infected, deer show symptoms within five to 10 days and many deer die within 36 hours of the onset of symptoms. Symptoms include lethargy, disorientation, and swelling of the head, neck, eyelids, and tongue, followed by internal hemorrhaging and respiratory distress. Deer typically have a high fever, and seek out and often die near bodies of water.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife, people should always avoid touching or handling sick or dead wild animals. Deer that survive the disease, which is rare in Ohio, are fit for consumption, provided the animal is not dealing with secondary infections associated with the disease.
The Division of Wildlife stopped testing dead deer this summer once it was apparent that deer were dying of EHD, however they continue to take reports of dead deer near creeks and water sources, and are continuing to map that to determine the extent of the outbreak. A map on the division website shows reports of dead and sick deer spread throughout southeastern Ohio, including Meigs and Gallia counties.
EHD made its first local appearance in a big way, back in ’02 (I like to pronounce it “ought-two”) in the western part of Meigs County. The smell of dead deer was everywhere. At that time it seemed like the deer population would never recover, although it did recover pretty quickly.
Outbreaks seem to occur in five-year cycles (2002, 2007, 2012…) and may also be linked to dry years which concentrate the midges at the few usable watering holes. This outbreak fits in neatly with the theorized five-year cycle. Whether or not this has been a dry year is up for debate; even though farmers got rain when they needed it and I never got a break from weekly lawn mowing, my weekly stream monitoring has shown consistent low flow throughout the year with the exception of a few isolated, short-lived flooding events – I blame the lack of snow last winter. So, even though we got rain, the creeks and springs were dry or nearly dry.
Looking ahead, does this mean we can expect another EHD outbreak in 2022? Time will tell.
It is easy to see why some hunters are alarmed about EHD, especially if that big buck they have been seeing on the trail camera suddenly drops off the radar, but the fact remains that there is nothing anyone can do about it; the longer this endless summer continues without a couple of killing frosts, the longer the outbreak will last. However, it is not the end of the world; it does not kill all of the deer, and those that survive seem to develop a level of immunity towards future outbreaks.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife is continuing to track suspected EHD cases in deer until after the disease has run its course – or until after a few hard frosts. Deer suffering from EHD will generally be found in creek bottoms or low areas, and these are the ones that the division wants to know about.
Suspected EHD cases can be reported to 1-800-WILDLIFE, your county wildlife officer, or SWCD wildlife specialist. These deer won’t be tested, since the presence of EHD has already been documented, but it will help document the extent and severity of the ongoing outbreak.
Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at firstname.lastname@example.org