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Bad news for deer: epizootic hemorrhagic disease outbreak in the Miami Valley

ODNR deer.jpg

A deadly Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease outbreak is affecting deer in the Miami Valley.

EHD is one of the most common deer diseases. It’s been in Ohio since at least 2002 but, historically, EHD has been most prevalent in the southeastern United States. As a result, deer in those states have built up herd immunity against it. That’s not the case yet in Ohio. So the state sees high mortality rates when there is an EHD outbreak.

The disease causes severe dehydration and high fevers. Many of the deer who get it die within 36 hours of the onset of symptoms. The disease is transmitted by the bite of small insects called midges that like to hang around bodies of water that the deer drink from.

EHD heat map from September 6, 2022
ODNR
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EHD heat map from September 6, 2022

Outbreaks usually start around labor day. But, this year, reported cases of EHD started a few weeks earlier in August.

Mike Tonkovich, the Deer Program Administrator with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, has been dealing with EHD for years. Tonkovich said he isn’t sure why the disease came early in 2022.

“Quite frankly, there's probably more that we don't know about this disease than we do know,” he said.

Here’s what we do know: EHD is not dangerous to humans (you can eat venison from a deer that had EHD, for example). EHD also doesn’t pose a serious risk to the health of livestock or pets. It does kill a lot of deer, however. Tonkovich said counties that get hit hard in the next few months may have to decrease the number of deer that hunters are allowed to harvest this fall.

He also said it’s important to report sick and dead or dying deer to the ODNR.

Tonkovich doesn’t expect the outbreak to end until the first few frosts of the season kill off all the midges.

Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is an Environmental Reporter at WYSO through Report for America. In 2017, he completed the radio training program at WYSO's Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. Prior to joining the team at WYSO, he did boots-on-the-ground conservation work and policy research on land-use issues in southwest Ohio as a Miller Fellow with the Tecumseh Land Trust.