Deer Face New Disease Threat Here

Pictured Above: A white-tailed dear with Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. | DEC photo by Christine Martinez

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reported Sept. 16 that deer on Long Island have begun to fall ill and die from Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, which until now had been a problem primarily seen in Upstate New York.

The disease, spread to deer by midges, known locally as ‘no-see-ums,’ cannot be spread by deer or midges to humans or from deer to deer, according to the DEC, though the disease rapidly becomes fatal for deer.

This virus was first confirmed in New York deer in 2007, with relatively small outbreaks in Albany, Rensselaer, and Niagara counties, and in Rockland County in 2011. From early September to late October 2020, a large Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease outbreak occurred in the lower Hudson Valley, centered in Putnam and Orange counties, with an estimated 1,500 deer mortalities, according to the DEC.

To date, the DEC has received reports of approximately 700 dead deer this year, with new cases reported this week in Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Nassau, Oswego, Suffolk, and Ulster counties, along with suspected cases in Albany, Jefferson, Oneida, Orange, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Sullivan, and Westchester counties.

EHD outbreaks are most common in the late summer and early fall, when midges are abundant, although initial cases this year were detected in late July. Signs of the EHD virus include fever, hemorrhage in muscles or organs, and swelling of the head, neck, tongue, and lips. A deer infected with EHD may appear lame or dehydrated.

Once infected with the virus, known as EHD, deer usually die within 36 hours. Infected deer frequently seek out water sources and many succumb to the disease near a water source. There is no treatment or means to prevent EHD, according to the DEC, though dead deer do not serve as a source of infection for other animals.

According to the DEC, “EHD outbreaks do not have a significant long-term impact on regional deer populations, but deer mortality can be significant in small geographic areas. EHD is endemic in the southern states, which report annual outbreaks, so some southern deer have developed immunity. In the northeast, EHD outbreaks occur sporadically and deer in New York have no immunity to this virus. Consequently, most EHD-infected deer in New York are expected to die. The first hard frost is expected to kill the midges that transmit the disease, ending the EHD outbreak.”

The DEC is asking members of the public to report sightings of sick or dead deer suspected of having EHD via a new online EHD reporting form, also available via DEC’s website or by contacting the nearest DEC Regional Wildlife Office. The DEC expects to continue to collect samples from deer and analyze data from deer reports to determine the extent of the outbreak, and has alerted Department of Agriculture and Markets veterinarians in the region to be aware of the disease and to report suspicious cases among captive deer.

For more information, visit DEC’s EHD webpage or Cornell University’s Wildlife Health Lab website.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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