2017-09-06 / Front Page

Disease is killing white tail deer by the hundreds


An outbreak of the disease commonly called bluetongue is killing hundreds of white tail deer throughout eastern Kentucky, and some cases have been reported in southwest Virginia.

Bluetongue is a “vector-borne” disease, meaning it is carried by deer parasites, in this cases midges, which are sometimes called gnats or no-see-ums.

Deer with the acute form of the disease may appear depressed, feverish, and very skinny. Their heads, necks, tongues and eyelids may be swollen, and they may have internal hemorrhaging. Those with chronic disease may have lesions in their mouths and stomach linings, and sloughing hooves. Affected animals often stay near water, and their carcasses may be found around lakes and streams.

Sgt. Homer Pigman, a conservation officer with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said there have been 150 or more reports of diseased deer in Letcher County, and over 1,000 in the eastern half of the state.

The correct name for the disease is Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease or EHD. According to Fish and Wildlife, it is caused by two related viruses — Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (EHDV) and Bluetongue Virus (BTV). The disease does not pose a threat to domestic animals or humans, and there is no evidence that it ever affects elk, according to Fish and Wildlife.

The web site for the KDFWR says that while the disease itself doesn’t affect humans, it can lower the resistance of deer to other diseases that could be harmful to humans. For that reason, the department doesn’t recommend eating a deer if you suspect it has bluetongue.

“Even if you shoot a deer and it’s in the early stages, you wouldn’t be able to tell it and the meat wouldn’t be affected,” Pigman said. “If you’re out hunting and one comes staggering through the hills, you’d probably want to pass on that.”

It takes a three to five-day incubation period before deer become symptomatic.

Pigman said the last time there was a bad bluetongue outbreak was in 2007 or 2008, but this time there seem to be more cases being reported. He said even with the number of cases reported, it won’t have an affect on hunting season.

Deer season opened last week, and hunters are already taking deer in the area. Since EHD is caused by midges and gnats, it is only active during warm weather. Pigman said once the first frost falls, the viruses die out and the deer won’t be infected.

“But we’re still a month from the first frost. There could still be a lot of reports come in,” he said.

Pigman said if a deer dies near your home, you can drag it away into the woods, or if it has been dead so long that it can’t be moved, pour lime over it to keep the odor down and it will be gone in a couple of days.

In addition to more obvious symptoms, hunters field dressing an affected deer may find swelling of the heart, lungs, rumen (first stomach) and intestines, or ulcers on the dental pad, tongue, palate, rumen and omasum (third stomach).

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