Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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EHD surfaces again in southern L.P. deer

Hubbardston, Mich. — The feared and often-fatal deer disease epizootic hemorrhagic disease has raised its head in Michigan’s white-tailed deer herd once again.

For the fifth year in a row, and sixth in the past seven, EHD has been confirmed in southern Michigan’s deer herd. State veterinarians at the MSU Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health in Lansing  confirmed

EHD as the cause of death in deer recently found in eastern Ionia and northern Branch counties.

Reports of as many as 400 dead deer in Branch, Ionia, and Montcalm counties have been filed with the DNR, although as of Aug. 9, only deer from Branch and Ionia counties had been confirmed to be infected with EHD.

Additional testing is ongoing.

“We’re seeing a lot of deer,” DNR wildlife biologist Steve Chadwick told Michigan Outdoor News. “It seems to be a pretty substantial outbreak. We had it in Cass and Branch counties last year, but we didn’t have the volunteer base to monitor it like we do this year. I don’t know if it’s a bigger outbreak, or if we’re just finding more deer because we have people looking for them.”

According to the DNR, the disease is found in wild ruminants (animals that chew their cud) and is characterized by extensive hemorrhages. White-tailed deer develop signs of the illness about seven days after exposure.

Deer initially lose their appetite and fear of humans, grow progressively weaker, salivate excessively, develop a rapid pulse and respiration rate, become unconscious, then die. Due to a high fever, the deer often are found sick or dead along or in bodies of water. The current outbreak appears centered around the Maple River corridor.

EHD is spread through the bite of Culicoides, which are flying insects like midges and gnats. Where the insects pick up EHD remains a mystery. There is no known treatment for, or control of, EHD. The disease disappears when frost kills the insects transmitting it.

A similar hemorrhagic disease called bluetongue also occurs in ruminants throughout the United States and Canada, but recently has not been found in Michigan.

Once considered rare in the state, EHD has been confirmed in Michigan whitetails eight times dating back to 1955. In addition to the recent outbreak, the DNR estimates that EHD killed at least 300 deer in Cass and St. Joseph counties last year; more than 1,000 deer in Ottawa, Allegan, VanBuren, Berrien, Cass, and St. Joseph counties in 2010; 300 to 400 deer in Livingston County in 2009; 150 to 200 deer in  Oakland and Macomb counties in 2008; and 50 to 75 deer in Allegan County in 2006. It also was found in 1974 (Iosco, Arenac, Mecosta, Gratiot, and Ingham counties) and 1955 (Lake, Manistee, Muskegon, and Saginaw counties).

The disease appeared earlier this year than in the past, perhaps because of the early, warm spring.

“Due to the prolonged dry, hot weather this year, we are not surprised to see EHD emerge again,” said Tom Cooley, DNR wildlife biologist and pathologist. “Mortality numbers will depend on how widespread the disease is. Die-offs usually occur within one watershed area. If multiple watersheds are involved, the total mortality is higher.”

Mike Rewa hunts in Cass County, where EHD took a toll on the local deer herd last year.

“In our area, we feel it killed about 60 percent of the deer last year,” Rewa said. In an effort to help revive the populations in areas affected by EHD, he’d like the DNR to take a look at its hunting regulations.

“I realize the DNR can’t do anything to eliminate the disease, but in areas that get hit hard, why not take a look at the deer regulations and perhaps cut back on the permits they are issuing, instead of just continuing to issue the same number of permits across southern Michigan,” he said. “The deer need a chance to bounce back.”

Property owners who find deer they suspect died of EHD in the vicinity of Branch County should call the DNR’s Crane Pond field office at (269) 244-5928, and in Ionia County contact the Flat River field office at (616) 794-2658. In other areas of the state, reports of suspected EHD outbreaks should be made to the nearest DNR office.

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