Delawareans Asked To Report Dead Deer For Research Purposes

Disease killing deer will run its course in cooler fall weather.

Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife
Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife

Delaware –-( DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife is continuing to reassure Delaware residents and hunters that an insect-borne disease that is fatal to white-tailed deer does not affect humans and rarely affects livestock.

In addition, while the disease may have significant impacts on local deer populations, it has minimal long-term ramifications for the viability of the state’s deer herd.

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) is transmitted by small biting flies commonly called midges or “no-see-ums.” EHD is the most significant disease afflicting white-tailed deer in North America but is also the best known and the most widely studied, having first been identified in 1955 with regular, almost annual outbreaks since. EHD outbreaks are most often associated with periods of drought. All known outbreaks have occurred in late summer and early fall, and are abruptly curtailed with the onset of frost, which kills the midges and suspends the hatch of their larvae.

“One positive outcome of having periodic outbreaks of EHD such as those that occurred in 2007 and 2010 is that our deer have a chance to develop antibodies to fight the disease. Deer having this resistance to EHD helps prevent large-scale losses, which might explain why repeated outbreaks in local areas usually do not occur,” said Rob Hossler, Game Species Program manager with the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

EHD outbreaks are common in Delaware and other Mid-Atlantic States, with the last significant outbreak occurring in 2007 with more than 132 dead deer reported in Delaware. This year, 101 deer deaths have been reported so far. Deer have died from EHD in all three counties in Delaware, but mortality has been most concentrated in Sussex County, outside Georgetown and Milton.

“The number of dead deer reported to me in the past few weeks is less than a month ago,” said Joe Rogerson, Division game mammal biologist. “We’re not sure why the number of reports has declined, but it may be due to the significant rainfall that much of the state recently experienced, particularly Sussex County. The heavy rainfall likely provided more water sources for deer and thus reduced the chance of deer visiting a water source with midges in the area.”

Humans cannot be infected by EHD, nor can the disease be transmitted by consuming venison from afflicted animals. However, hunters are advised to avoid eating venison from visibly sick deer because they may be stricken by a secondary infection that could affect people. While cattle and other livestock can be affected by EHD, this is not common and deer are the primary species impacted.

Although deer can build up antibodies to the disease, there is no known effective treatment for EHD, nor can white-tailed deer be vaccinated against the disease. No pesticides can be sprayed to kill the insects that cause EHD. “We are in a position of allowing nature to run its course and waiting for a hard frost to kill the midges,” said Rogerson. “Some studies have shown that local mortality rates can be in the range of 30 to 55 percent, but the outbreaks are usually confined to small geographic areas, which is what we have seen thus far.”

The virus deteriorates less than 24 hours after a deer dies, and cannot be spread from carcasses. Landowners may allow natural deterioration of carcasses in the field, but are advised to remove them from ponds or streams to prevent other contamination issues. Property owners are responsible for proper disposal of carcasses that they choose to remove; carcasses can be disposed of at landfills that accept household solid waste.

“We strongly encourage anyone who finds a dead deer with signs of EHD or no apparent cause of death to contact us so that the Division can track where EHD outbreaks are occurring in Delaware,” said Rogerson.

To report finding a dead deer, please call the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 302-735-3600.

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