The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has confirmed that two whitetail deer in the town of Esopus, Ulster County, died after contracting Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD). DEC is currently following up on reports of several other dead deer in Dutchess, Ulster, and Westchester counties.
EHD virus is an often-fatal disease of deer that is transmitted by biting midges, small bugs often called no-see-ums or “punkies.” The disease is not spread from deer to deer and humans cannot be infected by deer or bites from midges.
The EHD virus was first confirmed in New York in 2007 with relatively small outbreaks in Albany, Rensselaer, and Niagara counties, and in Rockland County in 2011. From early September to late October 2020, a large EHD outbreak occurred in the lower Hudson Valley, centered in Putnam and Orange counties, with an estimated 1,500 deer mortalities.
Once infected with EHD, deer usually die within 36 hours. EHD outbreaks are most common in the late summer and early fall when midges are abundant. EHD symptoms include fever, hemorrhage in muscle or organs, and swelling of the head, neck, tongue, and lips. A deer infected with EHD may appear lame or dehydrated. Frequently, infected deer will seek out water sources and many succumb near a water source. There is no treatment or means to prevent EHD. The dead deer do not serve as a source of infection for other animals.
EHD outbreaks do not have a significant long-term impact on deer populations, but deer mortality can be intense in small geographic areas. EHD is endemic in the southern states where there are annual outbreaks, so some southern deer have developed immunity. In the northeast, EHD outbreaks occur sporadically and deer in New York have no immunity to this virus. Consequently, most EHD-infected deer in New York are expected to die. In the north, the first hard frost kills the midges that transmit the disease, ending the EHD outbreak.
Sightings of sick or dying deer should be reported to the nearest DEC Regional Office or Environmental Conservation Police Officer. DEC will collect samples from deer and analyze data from deer reports to determine the extent of the outbreak. In addition, DEC has alerted Department of Agriculture and Markets veterinarians in the region to be aware of the disease and to report suspicious cases among captive deer.
For more information, visit Cornell University’s Wildlife Health Lab website.
Photo of whitetail deer by Dick Thomas.