Tuesday, October 15, 2013

IDNR seeks help in tracking deadly virus that infects deer

By Jamey Dunn

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is seeking help from residents in tracking a deadly disease striking deer in the state.

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) causes a high fever and internal bleeding in deer. The disease, which is spread by biting gnats, is often fatal in deer but does not threaten people or pets. There is no treatment for EHD. Once temperatures drop, killing off the gnats, outbreaks end for the year.

IDNR is calling on Illinoisans to report sick or dead deer that they suspect suffered from EHD so the department can track the disease. IDNR uses the information to help monitor deer populations so it can set conservation policies and hunting quotas, said Paul Shelton, IDNR forest wildlife program manager. Shelton said that after a report, IDNR may come out to test and confirm that EHD caused the death.

The numbers so far this year are less than last year. As of September 30, 403 EHD fatalities in 51 counties had been reported. At the same time last year, 2,043 deaths were reported in 76 counties. Drought conditions such as the ones in the state last year tend to increase infections because deer congregate around what little water they can find, creating a buffet for infected gnats. Many infected deer survive. Shelton said that the prevalence of infection last year maybe part of the reason numbers have dropped this year. Deer who survived now have a resistance to the disease. He said counties that had high mortality rates in 2012 have reported few or none in 2013.

The most common indication of EHD is deer dying in or close to water. Because the virus elevates the animal’s body temperature, those infected often seek water to try to cool off. The fever can also make deer lethargic. “They may even seem to lose their fear of humans,” Shelton said. “It may be hanging around a house, and it may not run away when you come up on it.” Shelton said that many deer die before the develop obvious physical signs of EHD, but some experience a discoloration of the tongue and lips, which can turn purple or blue.

If residents find a deer that they suspect may have fallen victim to EHD, the IDNR asks that they contact the nearest IDNR field office or call Doug Dufford, IDNR wildlife disease and invasive species program manager, at (815) 535-2875 or by email at doug.dufford@illinois.gov. The IDNR is seeking the county where the deer was found, the “number of dead deer, sex (if known) and specific location of the deer — distance [and] direction from the nearest town or intersection of two roads.”

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