Abnormally dry conditions in parts of the country this year have contributed to an increase in whitetail mortality from epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), a cyclical malady that has been known to severely impact deer populations in some regions.
Just yesterday, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported at least 100 deer died from EHD in Greene and Washington counties, and that number was expected to increase.
EHD, which is known colloquially as blue tongue, is a common deer disease contracted by gnat-like biting midges. Deer can die within five to ten days after being bitten, but the disease is not always fatal.
Symptoms of the disease include a high fever and swelling of tissues around the eyes and mouth area, often causing a rosy or bluish color (hence the “blue tongue” moniker). Sick deer often lose their appetite, coordination and their fear of normal dangers.
EHD is not transmittable to humans nor does the meat from an infected animal pose any health risk.
Perhaps the biggest downside for hunters is that EHD can potentially devastate a healthy deer herd in small pockets and areas where large numbers of deer tend to congregate. And it can do so in a relatively short period of time.
I reside in one of the 14 affected counties in southernmost Indiana, and I’ve already seen four carcasses in less than a week, just during my regular morning and evening walks. And all of them have been near water sources, which is common as the infected animals try to fight the effects of fever and mouth-swelling.
Unfortunately, the only thing that will put a definite stop to an EHD outbreak is a good hard fall freeze, and that's not likely to occur for some time.
In the meantime, there’s not much we can do except hope for a minimal deer loss.