West Virginia’s recent outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease is more extensive than wildlife officials initially believed.
Originally, Division of Natural Resources officials said dead deer in seven counties had tested positive for the EHD virus.
That number has since risen to 12, and more counties might be added.
Jim Crum, the DNR’s deer project leader and a wildlife disease specialist, said dead deer have been reported in 24 of the state’s 55 counties.
“Those are all the counties that have some kind of reported mortality,” Crum explained. “We’re still waiting for test results to come back for seven counties.”
The counties with confirmed EHD outbreaks are Boone, Brooke, Hancock, Harrison, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, Mason, Ohio, Tucker and Wayne.
Crum said all but one of the deer succumbed to the strain of EHD usually found in the Mountain State.
“That one deer was an odd case,” he continued. “It was the one from Tucker County. It was reported by a retired DNR employee, and it was the only one reported from that county. That test came back positive for [strain] 6 of EHD. We’d never seen that serotype in West Virginia before. We’ve mainly had serotype 2, and it’s been like that for a long time.”
Past outbreaks of EHD have killed up to 20 percent of the deer in areas where the disease hit hardest. Crum said the mortality is seldom widespread.
“I think the impacts from this outbreak will be localized,” he added. “In 2012 and in previous outbreaks, the mortality was localized, so there’s no reason to expect anything different from this one.”
West Virginia’s outbreak apparently isn’t as severe as the one Kentucky has been experiencing. Crum said Bluegrass State officials “have had a tremendous number of reported dead animals. We haven’t had anything that extensive on our side.”
Asked to characterize the severity of West Virginia’s outbreak, Crum said it probably is similar to the one in 2012, but not as severe as the one in 2007.
A tiny biting insect, the culicoides midge or gnat, transmits the virus to deer and other ruminants. Reports of cattle showing signs of the disease are not uncommon, but cattle seldom die from it. For some reason, it seems to hit white-tailed deer hardest.
Infected whitetails lose appetite, develop fevers and grow weak. In an effort to cool off, many will lie down in creeks or ponds. Those that contract the acute form of the disease will drool excessively, appear to lose their fear of humans, and may bleed through lesions on their hooves and skin.
Unlike chronic wasting disease, EHD doesn’t kill every deer that gets infected. In fact, many survive. Crum said survivors can usually be identified by creases on their hooves, not unlike the creases on a human thumbnail that’s been hit by a hammer. The DNR considers a deer to have had EHD if three or more of its hooves have creases in them.
Humans can’t get EHD. Deer that have had the disease are safe to eat, but DNR officials advise against eating any animal that is clearly sick when it’s killed.
The good news about EHD outbreaks is that they’re usually short-lived. Cold weather kills off the midges that spread the disease. Crum said they usually disappear soon after the first hard frost.
DNR officials don’t expect this year’s EHD outbreak to have much effect on the statewide deer harvest, but they acknowledge that hunters in some areas may notice losses in local populations.
Fortunately, deer are resilient creatures. Even in areas where the disease was at its worst, whitetail populations should return to normal within two to three years.