SHERIDAN – Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) is responsible for the deaths of white-tailed deer and antelope in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Sheridan Region this fall.
Scattered white-tailed deer deaths have been reported from Kaycee to Sheridan and an antelope near Wright also tested positive for the disease. “Conditions have been ideal for an outbreak of the disease,” says Sheridan senior wildlife biologist Tim Thomas.
Thomas explains that during this warm summer and fall, white-tailed deer have been concentrated around water sources. Gnats found near water sources spread the virus when biting deer and antelope.
When first infected, white-tailed deer look healthy and normal. As the disease progresses, the animal begins to look weak and ill. The virus can cause spontaneous hemorrhaging in muscles and organs five to 10 days after an animal is infected. Lungs become fluid-filled and the deer often foams at the mouth. The deer may develop sores on the mouth and tongue area. The progression of this disease is very rapid and in many cases, the deer are found dead before any symptoms are seen.
Infected deer often seek out water sources. Sick or dead deer are often reported to the G&F after being observed in or near ponds, creeks or rivers. In other cases, deer may die in open fields. Since it may appear to be an unnatural death, people sometimes report it as a suspected poaching.
The G&F expects white-tailed deer mortalities to continue until several days after a hard frost. Thomas explains, “A hard frost will kill the gnats which transmit the disease. Mortalities will continue for a while after a hard frost because deer infected prior to the frost may succumb to the virus.”
The last major outbreak of the disease near Sheridan, Wyoming was in 2006. Deer populations in northeastern Wyoming have endured EHD outbreaks for decades. A related disease, ‘blue tongue’ may infect antelope. Mule deer and bighorn sheep occasionally get these diseases, but are generally insulated from the infection because they rarely inhabit the environment of the gnats.
Some hunters may be concerned about health risks associated with EHD or blue tongue. Thomas assures hunters they do not have to worry about getting the disease from harvested deer or antelope. “There is no human health concern from the hemorrhagic diseases,” Thomas says. “Humans can’t get it and neither can most other wildlife.”