Deer Disease Affecting Southwest Virginia

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The Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) has confirmed to Appalachian Magazine that multiple cases of hemorrhagic disease among the deer population in Southwest Virginia have been documented.

As of ten days ago, approximately 152 deer in seven far-Southwestern Virginia counties  have been confirmed.  The affected counties include: Buchanan 12 deer, Dickenson 14 deer, Lee  36 deer, Russell 1 deer, Scott 64 deer, Washington 5 deer, and Wise County 20 deer.

State wildlife officials say there has been a few more HD calls since then, but nothing dramatic.

“To put this in context, Kentucky has had over 4,500 HD reports,” stated Matt Knox of DGIF.

Though HD is a common infectious disease among white-tailed deer in Virginia, typically, the disease is limited to Virginia’s Piedmont region, rather than in Southwest Virginia.

According to the DGIF, HD is not spread by direct contact, but is transmitted by tiny biting flies. These flies are commonly known as “biting midges” but are also called local names such as sand gnats, sand flies, no-see-ums and punkies.

HD typically occurs from mid-August through October.  The onset of freezing weather, which stops the midges, brings a sudden end to HD outbreaks. How the viruses persist through the winter when midges are not active is not clear.

Outward signs in live deer depend partly on the potency of the virus and duration of infection. Many affected deer appear normal or show only mild signs of illness. When illness occurs, the signs change as the disease progresses. Initially animals may be depressed, feverish, have a swollen head, neck, tongue, or eyelids, or have difficulty breathing. With highly virulent strains of the virus, deer may die within 1 to 3 days. More often, deer survive longer and may become lame, lose their appetite, or reduce their activity.

Dead or dying deer found near water in late summer or early fall are a common characteristic of an HD outbreak.

Humans are not at risk by handling infected deer, eating venison from infected deer, or being bitten by infected biting midges. However, deer that develop bacterial infections or abscesses secondary to HD may not be suitable for consumption.

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