Outbreak of Hemorrhagic Disease in Piedmont Deer Tapers Off

  • 27 October 2014
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Outbreak of Hemorrhagic Disease in Piedmont Deer Tapers Off
Common symptoms of hemorrhagic disease in deer include emaciation, loss of motor control, fever, lameness, and swelling of the neck and head.

RALEIGH, N.C. (Oct. 27, 2014) — After receiving multiple reports of dead, dying or sick deer in seven Piedmont counties, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said today that the outbreak of hemorrhagic disease (HD) in white-tailed deer appears to be tapering off with the onset of cooler weather.

Hemorrhagic disease is a common disease of deer caused by two types of viruses — one producing blue tongue and the other producing epizootic hemorrhagic disease. Tests of infected animals indicate that epizootic hemorrhagic disease appears to be the responsible virus for this year’s outbreak.

HD is a cyclic disease and tends to occur in North Carolina every year, although with varying degrees of severity and distribution. The counties with moderate to severe cases of HD this year are Granville, Durham, Wake, Johnston, Vance, Franklin and Warren counties.

Transported by a biting midge or gnat, the HD viruses enter deer through insect bites. Common symptoms of sick animals include emaciation, loss of motor control, fever, lameness, and swelling of the neck and head. Feverish deer often seek relief near cool bodies of water, resulting in a higher frequency of dead deer near water than on adjacent uplands. Examinations of dead deer usually reveal ulcerations on the tongue, dental pad and roof of the mouth. The mouth and tongue also may be bluish and the skin and other soft tissues may be flush or reddish. 

Since mid-August, the Commission has been receiving reports from concerned Piedmont area residents and hunters who have either seen dead or dying deer or have not seen any deer in areas where they were commonly seen in previous years.

“While HD can have an impact on deer populations in some counties, it likely isn’t the only reason people aren’t seeing as many deer as they have in previous years,” said Dr. Maria Palamar, the Commission’s wildlife veterinarian. “Because the acorn crop has been so abundant this year, deer really haven’t had to move around as much, so people aren’t seeing them as much as they would in years with less food on the ground.”

HD has no known human health implications, but it is one of the most significant endemic viral diseases of white-tailed deer in the southeastern U.S. There is no evidence that it can affect humans, dogs, cats or other domestic pets. The viruses, particularly blue tongue, can be contracted by other ruminants such as cows and sheep. Typically, HD does not cause severe symptoms in cows, but the blue tongue virus can cause disease in sheep similar to what occurs in white-tailed deer. Deer that recover from an episode of HD develop immunity to future outbreaks and deer populations quickly recover from even severe hemorrhagic disease outbreaks.

Hunters should not be concerned with eating venison from animals harvested in the area of HD outbreak because exposure to the virus does not pose a health risk to humans. As always, hunters should be cautious of consuming venison from any animal with obvious signs of illness. Hunters should report obviously sick looking animals to their local district biologist for further evaluation.

The last major outbreak of HD in the state was in 2012 in the western part of the state, in particular Caldwell, Wilkes and Surry counties.  Other notable outbreaks occurred in 1939, 1955, 1961, 1971, 1976, 1988, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2007 and 2011.

Learn more about hemorrhagic disease.

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Jodie B. Owen

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