Wildlife biologists believe recent reports of white-tailed deer deaths in western North Dakota could indicate the presence of epizootic hemorrhagic disease.
Dr. Dan Grove, State Game and Fish Department wildlife veterinarian, said the reports have characteristics similar to previous EHD events, and initial necropsy results on a freshly dead deer from Burleigh County indicate the potential presence of EHD.
“Deer losses to EHD occur periodically,” Grove said. “Sometimes the incidents are isolated and affect few animals, and in other cases the disease is spread over a large geographic region.”
As of Aug. 28, less than 20 dead deer have been reported to the department in three counties – Bowman, Grant and Burleigh. However, the typical range where EHD is found in North Dakota is southwest of the Missouri River, and in large outbreaks most counties in this region are affected.
Game and Fish is urging bow hunters and elk hunters in the field in early September to report any observations of dead deer, Grove said, and to report locations quickly so biologists can gauge distribution and severity. “To isolate the EHD virus, the animal cannot have been dead for more than 24 hours,” he added.
Information needed from each report is the species, age, sex and location. “It would be nice if we could get the legal description of the land, or a GPS coordinate, and a photograph if possible,” Grove said. “At the very least, we will need the number of miles and direction from the closest town.”
EHD primarily affects white-tailed deer, and is most noticeable in western North Dakota when high whitetail populations combine with a hot and humid late summer and early fall. Most deer that die from this are infected before the first hard frost, which kills the biting midges that spread the disease, Grove said.
The last time North Dakota had significant deer deaths from EHD was 2011.
EHD causes dehydration and a high body temperature, causing deer to seek water prior to death. Other clinical and behavior symptoms may include respiratory distress; swelling of head, neck, and tongue; lesions on tongue and roof of mouth; indifference to humans; and in later stages, hemorrhaging from body orifices.
EHD is not a danger to humans. However, hunters should not shoot or consume a deer if it appears sick.