By Christine Menapace
From the December 2023 Issue
So you found a dead deer on a client’s property? What happened and what should you do? The deer could be a victim of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), or Bluetongue Virus (BT). All these diseases are fatal to deer (in most cases) and there are no treatments or vaccines.
Chronic Wasting Disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), CWD is a proin (a rare progressive neurodegenerative disorder) that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer, and moose. It has been detected in Canada and at least 23 states in the U.S. It may take over a year before an infected animal develops symptoms, which can include drastic weight loss (wasting), stumbling, listlessness, and other neurologic symptoms— though some infected animals may die without ever developing symptoms. CWD is fatal and there are no treatments or vaccines.
To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people. However, since 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the importance of keeping the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.
If you encounter sick or dead deer or multiple dead deer in an area (excluding deer killed on or near a roadway) contact the appropriate authorities in your state. Additionally, an article from Katie Ockert at Michigan State University offers advice to hunters on the proper disposal of carcasses from harvested deer to minimize the spread of CWD.
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease
EHD and BT are related Hemorrhagic disease (HD) viruses transmitted by tiny biting flies known as midges, “no-see-ums,” or gnats. HD primarily affects white-tailed deer and symptoms usually begin approximately seven days after infection. Fever and edema are common, and deer often have a swollen head, neck, tongue, or eyelids. Animals may have reduced appetite, weakness, and loss of fear of humans. Deer die quickly within 8 to 36 hours.
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Neither EHD or BT are a disease of humans. The disease is not spread directly from deer to deer and humans cannot be infected by contact with deer or bites from midges, according to the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC). The first hard frost should kill midges, effectively ending EHD outbreaks. EHD is endemic (occurs yearly) in the southern U.S., and it is becoming more common in the northern parts of the U.S. In some states, large outbreaks have affected thousands of deer, writes NYDEC.
Dead deer do not serve as a source of EHD infection to animals or people and do not need to be removed from the landscape, according to NYDEC. If there is a need to dispose of or move a dead deer, NYDEC says handlers should take routine precautions such as wearing gloves and washing hands afterwards. For hunters, thorough cooking will kill the virus, but NYDEC always recommends against harvesting or eating any animal that appears sick or diseased.
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