Since early September, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Wildlife Division has documented in more than 50 white-tailed deer exhibiting symptoms associated with Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHDV-6), primarily in the towns of Middletown and Portland, with a few in Chester, Haddam, and Lyme.
EHDV-6 is transmitted to deer by tiny biting flies (midges). Although the virus has also been detected in other mammals, including mule deer, elk, and domestic cattle, white-tailed deer represent 95% of the affected animals. Once infected, the disease progresses rapidly with deer exhibiting symptoms that include swollen head, neck, tongue, or eyelids with a bloody discharge from the nasal cavity; ulcers on the tongue; and hemorrhaging of the heart and lungs followed by death within three to five days. The virus also creates high feverish conditions, causing infected deer to sometimes be found in or near water sources.
Concern over hemorrhagic disease should not limit hunter willingness to harvest deer during the hunting season. The disease does not infect humans, and people are not at risk by eating venison from or handling infected deer, or by being bitten by infected midges. The disease rarely causes illness in domestic animals, such as cattle, sheep, goats, horses, dogs, and cats. However, hunters are advised to exercise caution if they observe a deer that is behaving abnormally or appears sick and avoid shooting, handling, or consuming that animal. When field dressing deer, hunters should wear latex or rubber gloves and disinfect any instruments that come in contact with the animal.
The DEEP Wildlife Division first learned of several dead deer in the Portland/Middletown area from a concerned hunter. The reported deer were in various stages of decay with some lying along the river bank, while others were floating in the water. On October 15, 2017, the DEEP received confirmation from the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study group that a deer from Middletown tested positive for Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 6 (EHDV-6).
Prior to 2004, only two subtypes of Hemorrhagic Disease were documented in North America (EHDV-1, 2). EHDV-6 was first detected in 2006 in Indiana and Illinois, and has since been reported throughout the Midwest, and from Florida, North Carolina, and Maryland.
Outbreaks of hemorrhagic disease routinely occur during late summer and early fall as the number of midges increase, and ceases with the onset of a hard frost, which kills the midges carrying the virus. Although temperatures have dipped into the upper 30’s along the Connecticut River in recent days, a hard frost has not occurred.
The DEEP is encouraging anyone who observes deer appearing emaciated, behaving strangely, or lying dead along the edge of waterbodies to report the information, along with the closest address, to the DEEP’s 24-hour Emergency Dispatch Center at 860-424-3333, the DEEP Wildlife Division at 860-418-5921, or send an email to Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org.