HARRISBURG, Pa. – Dr. Walter Cottrell, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, announced that epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) has been confirmed as the cause of death for two deer in Beaver County. The agency is waiting for results from samples collected from deer in Cambria and Westmoreland counties, but Dr. Cottrell noted that it is likely the results will confirm EHD as well.
Samples were tested by the Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) at the University of Georgia, which has confirmed deer mortalities due to four different strains of the EHD virus in 15 states this year.
“The good news from this situation is that the public is reporting these sightings to the Game Commission,” Cottrell said. “Should the state’s deer herd be infected with more serious diseases than EHD, the Game Commission will need to rely on the continued vigilance of the public so that we can respond in a timely manner.â€¨
“There are no management actions or practices to prevent or limit mortality caused by EHD. Fortunately, EHD should be curtailed with the first hard frost, which will kill the midges that are spreading the disease. EHD is a seasonal disease and the affected local deer herd can rebound quickly.”
EHD is one of the most common diseases among white-tailed deer in the United States, and is contracted by the bite of insects called “midges” or “no-see-ums.” The virus of EHD usually kills the animal within five to 10 days, and is not spread directly from deer to deer. While EHD is not infectious to humans, deer displaying severe symptoms of EHD may not be suitable for consumption.
â€¨Cottrell stressed that even though a few EHD symptoms are similar to those of CWD – such as weakness and a loss of fear of humans – there is no relationship between EHD and CWD.
According to a National Wildlife Health Center Wildlife Health Bulletin issued by Dr. Jonathan Sleeman, Center Director, USGS National Wildlife Health Center, and Dr. John Fischer, Director, SCWDS, this year’s EHD outbreaks have the potential to be more severe because widespread drought and high temperatures cause lower water levels creating more muddy areas favored by the disease-carrying midges.
The bulletin also notes that herd immunity to EHD viruses may be low because five years have lapsed since the last large outbreak. In 2011, EHD was confirmed in Northampton and Erie counties. EHD was confirmed in southwestern Pennsylvania in 2007 and 2002. It also was suspected to be the cause of death in nearly 25 deer in Adams County in 1996, but tests conducted at that time were inconclusive. Pennsylvania deer do not usually live long enough to span the time between outbreaks, so they are do not have immunity when the next outbreak comes along, and the disease will be fatal.
In addition to samples collected for testing from Beaver and Cambria counties, Game Commission biologists recently submitted two more samples from dead deer found in Murrysville and Jeannette, Westmoreland County, to SCWDS for testing. The agency will continue to gather samples from other dead deer being found in other municipalities. Due to decomposition, samples must be collected within 24 hours of the animal’s death for the samples to be viable.
Game Commission Southwest Region Director Pat Anderson is urging residents to report sightings of sickly-looking deer, particularly those found near water, by calling the Region Office at 724-238-9523. The Southwest Region serves Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
Residents in other counties are encouraged to contact their respective Game Commission Region Offices. For contact information, go to the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) and click on “About Us” and “Regional Information.”