Marion, Ill. — A group of bowhunters scouting places to set up shop near Lake of Egypt this archery season were in for a surprise when they found carcasses of a half-dozen deer grouped in a small creek.
Actually, it wasn’t much of a surprise at all.
“We’d kind of half-expected that blue tongue or EHD would hit quite a few due to drought, just like a few years ago,” Bob Henry, a Johnson County hunter who said he called in a report of the dead deer to DNR in early September, said. “That said, it’s still a jolt when you find that many together.”
Similar reports began coming in from all parts of the state, including several from the Lake Shelbyville area and an unusual amount from Cook County.
DNR, which had patiently been waiting for reports of dead deer to come in once hunters began scouting the woods and farmers started their harvests, announced earlier this month an outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. As of the first week of September, the agency had received more than 700 reports of dead deer in 51 counties.
DNR blames extreme drought conditions that hit the entire state this summer.
“Problems related to EHD can become more pronounced during drought years,” Tom Micetich, DNR Deer Project manager, said. “Exposed mudflats provide conditions that favor hatches of the disease-carrying insects. Later in the summer, deer become more concentrated around the limited water sources, and the disease may begin to spread more quickly. Mild winters may also contribute, resulting in higher gnat populations the following summer.”
According to Micetich, EHD is a viral disease, spread by tiny biting gnats, which can cause high fever and severe internal bleeding in deer. While often fatal in deer. EHD is related to, but not the same as “blue tongue,” which affects sheep and cattle, he clarified.
Symptoms of EHD in deer may include sluggishness, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, salivation, a high fever and swelling of the head, neck, tongue or eyelids. Infected animals will seek water and are often found close to ponds, lakes and creeks.
Henry said he and members of his hunting group had heard stories of people finding dead deer in southern Illinois since July. Roughly 50 miles to the north, in Perry County, a trophy-sized buck was found dead in August, causing a stir among southern Illinois deer hunters.
DNR officials pointed out that EHD affects some Illinois deer every year. In 2011, the DNR received probable EHD reports from eight Illinois counties. The last major outbreak occurred in 2007, during another very dry summer, when EHD was reported from 57 counties.
Through the end of August, DNR biologists had logged reports of 721 dead deer from 51 counties.
While reports in past years have mostly been concentrated in the southern half of the state, this year the highest numbers of EHD-related deer mortality have come from Cook County, which had 256 reports. Behind Cook was Macon (69) and Calhoun (59) counties.
Lab testing of tissue samples from some of the deer confirmed the presence of EHD virus.
As is typical during a dry year, Illinois is not alone in the its EHD suffering. Outbreaks have also been reported in neighboring Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa and Missouri.
“Typically, outbreaks tend to be localized with a very patchy distribution across the landscape,” Micetich said. “This occurs because environmental and habitat conditions play an important role in producing just the right mix of virus, high gnat populations, and susceptible deer.”
Micetich said that EHD is selective. Heavy losses may occur in a particular area, while nearby properties may be unaffected.
“While deer may be dying on your property, your neighbor may not find any,” Micetich said.
There is no effective management treatment for this disease. An insect-killing frost typically ends an EHD outbreak.
“That would be one more reason to hope for cooler weather, soon,” Micetich said.