Deer tissue samples from Allegheny, Beaver, Westmoreland and Montgomery counties have tested positive for EHD, and epizootic hemorrhagic disease is suspected in deer deaths in Cambria, Greene and Crawford counties. The good news is that the numbers of dead deer found at these locations has been limited.
EHD is a common viral disease spread by tiny biting flies (midges) in the genus Culicoides. Female midges transmit the virus while consuming blood meals from deer. According to the National Wildlife Health Center, there is no form of treatment or prevention of EHD and no evidence that it infects humans. Infected deer usually die within 10 days. With the first hard frost, the midges die, and the source of the disease disappears.
EHD is much more common in Southern states where hotter, drier summers create lower water levels and more muddy habitat where the Culicoides midges thrive. Our summer was hot and dry, so it was a good year for midges.
Hunters are encouraged to avoid shooting deer that look sick or disheveled and to carefully inspect harvested deer before eating it.
"Symptoms to watch for are individuals that seem weak, are too approachable and are near water," Walter Cottrell, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife veterinarian said in a written statement. "Symptoms on dead animals include a dark tongue, swelling around the eyes and ulcers around the mouth."
Cook venison to 135 degrees to kill viruses, and beware of any meat that has abnormal odors, color or texture.
"All wildlife, even healthy looking individuals, harbor populations of a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites," said Cottrell. "After death, these pathogens multiply rapidly, so consuming wild game always carries a spectrum of risk."
If you think you've killed an infected deer, contact the PGC at 724-238-9523 as soon as possible. Tissue samples must be collected within 24 hours of death to be usable for testing.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 AM WVLY (Wheeling) and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 AM WMNY (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.