Once again, our late summer is very hot and very dry – bad news for deer. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is receiving reports of dead deer in scattered areas of the state. The timing and details of the reports are all indicative of hemorrhagic disease (HD). HD occurs at varying levels of severity each year in white-tailed deer herds. The catch-all term for this disease is hemorrhagic disease (HD). Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and bluetongue are closely related viruses that fall under the umbrella of HD.
In 2017 HD was moderately severe in East Tennessee and some other states in the Appalachian region. The last major outbreak of HD in Tennessee was in 2007 and involved virtually all of the state. Kentucky also had a severe outbreak in 2007.
HD is caused by a virus that is transmitted to deer from biting midges (gnats) or “no-see-ums.” It is not transmitted from deer to deer by contact. The virus causes fever, respiratory distress, and swelling of the neck or tongue. Not all deer exposed to the virus will die, but those that do usually do so within five to ten days of exposure, often seeking water as they try to drink and cool their bodies from the fever; they may appear lethargic and fearless of people. Incidences of HD usually peaks around mid-September and are usually done by mid-October with the onset of cold weather.
Often when HD becomes epidemic – the word is epizootic in animals – it is called EHD. It has been in the United States for more than 60 years; it does not affect people or pets. It should be noted that HD and EHD have nothing to do with chronic wasting disease (CWD), which is caused by a neurological prion and is incurable.