Michigan DNR issues deer contagion alert after six EHD deaths


LANSING, MI — State wildlife officials say six free-ranging deer in southeast Michigan have died this year from a viral disease outbreak that is spread by biting flies.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says white-tailed deer in Oakland, Macomb, St. Clair and Shiawassee counties have succumbed to epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), a contagion found in deer and elk.

The DNR wants hunters to be on the lookout for dead or sickly deer during hunting seasons this fall and winter.

“We are asking for hunters to look around as they hit the field this fall to let us know if they find dead deer, especially any near water,” said Tom Cooley, DNR wildlife pathologist.

Due to the onset of high fever and dehydration, infected deer seek water to lower their body temperature and rehydrate. They’re often found sick or dead near water.

The illness can come on suddenly and severely, but also linger for weeks or months in a low-grade state. In severe cases, deer lose their appetite and fear of humans, grow progressively weaker, salivate excessively and finally become unconscious.

The disease is transmitted by a type of biting fly called a midge. Infection does not always result in the disease. Signs of infection are highly variable, ranging from no symptoms to extensive internal bleeding and fluid accumulation.

There is no evidence that humans can contract the EHD virus.

The DNR says three cases were identified in Oakland County, and one apiece in Macomb, St. Clair and Shiawassee counties already this fall. Since Sept. 20, the DNR has received 150 reports of likely cases, primarily from counties where EHD is confirmed.

The disease has been killing Michigan deer off intermittently since 2006. The DNR estimates between 50 and 1,000 deer die in isolated areas during each outbreak. The largest die-off occurred in 2012, with an estimated 14,000 deer.

No cases of EHD were confirmed in 2014 or 2015, and few have been reported since 2015.

There is no known effective treatment for, or control of, EHD in wild populations. The disease has been seen for decades in many areas of the United States.

Statewide archery hunting season began Oct. 1 and ends on the 14th. A second bow season takes place in December. Statewide firearm season runs Nov. 15 to 30.

Anyone who discovers a dead deer should report it through the DNR’s Eyes in the Field reporting form or call the closest DNR Customer Service Center.

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