Michigan: EHD found in southwestern Michigan deer

Lansing – For the third time in three years, epizootic
hemorrhagic disease (EHD) has raised its deadly head in Michigan’s
deer population.

State veterinarian Tom Cooley confirmed that four whitetails had
died from the disease as of Sept. 29. Two of the dead deer were in
Ottawa County, and one each were from Cass County and Berrien
County in southwestern Michigan.

“We’ve had some calls from Van Buren County, too, but we haven’t
been able to get any samples from there yet,” Cooley said. “We
started (getting reports of sick or dead deer) about three weeks
ago. The problem is that early on we were getting reports from
people who smelled the (rotting carcasses of the) deer, and that’s
usually too late for testing.”

Only four deer carcasses so far have been suitable for testing,
but many more deer are believed to have died from the disease.

“It’s probably a few dozen, at least,” DNRE Communications
Specialist Mary Dettloff said. “We don’t have a ballpark figure
yet. A lot of the biologists from that area of the state are at the
oil spill or were at the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
meeting in Grand Rapids.

“We still want to collect fresh samples,” she said.

Property owners who discover sick or dead deer they suspect of
being infected with EHD are asked to call the nearest DNRE office
to report it.

Last year, the disease was confirmed in Lenawee County, and in
2008 more than 100 deer died of the disease in Oakland and Macomb
counties along the Clinton River.

EHD affects wild ruminants (cud-chewing animals like deer, elk,
and moose). It’s an acute, often deadly, viral disease that causes
hemorrhaging in its victims. Deer that recover from EHD usually
have cracked hooves and/or heavy hoof overgrowth.

A similar hemorrhagic disease called bluetongue also occurs in
ruminants throughout the United States and Canada.

There is no evidence that humans can contract the EHD virus.
There is no known effective treatment for EHD.

Cooley said EHD can be spread to other species, but that it
usually doesn’t effect species other than deer, elk, and moose.

“Bluetongue can go into other species, but with EHD they can be
infected with it, but it won’t show any symptoms,” Cooley said.
“It’s really a non-issue.”

EHD is spread through the bite of Culicoides – insects like
midges and gnats. Where the insects pick up EHD remains a
mystery.

The disease usually disappears after the first frost of the year
kills the insects carrying the virus. The DNRE says the disease can
have an adverse impact on localized deer populations, but is not a
threat to the statewide population. Biologists do not anticipate
any widespread problems.

According to state officials, the disease is characterized by
extensive hemorrhaging. White-tailed deer develop signs of the
illness about seven days after exposure. A constant characteristic
of the disease is its sudden onset. Deer initially lose their
appetite and fear of humans, grow progressively weaker, salivate
excessively, develop a rapid pulse and respiration rate, and
finally become unconscious. Due to a high fever, the deer often are
found sick or dead along or in bodies of water.

Although rare, EHD is no stranger to Michigan. State officials
first documented EHD here in white-tailed deer in 1955. Additional
cases were confirmed in several counties in 1974, and again in 2006
in Allegan County.

Cooley said climate change is one explanation for the recent
increase in the incidents of the disease.

“I understand that it’s a controversial topic, but you have to
consider climate change,” he said. “It’s a disease we have found
south of here, but not as often here. Some people say we’re finding
it more now because we’re looking for it, but EHD is a disease
that’s very visible. If it was here, we would have seen it.”

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