Deer become infected with a disease that spreads to Ohio and other parts of the Midwest.
On Monday, Southern Ohio police were called to investigate a strange phenomenon on the side of the road.
“This deer just stood there and didn’t react to us, like… like it wasn’t afraid,” said James Love, public relations officer for the Coleraine, Ohio Township Police Department.
When police approached the deer, Love said they saw discoloration in the deer’s coat and that despite their close proximity, the deer was not moving.
“It was a complete surprise for all of us,” Love said. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”
What’s wrong with a deer?
What the police saw was a deer suffering from a disease called epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD.
EHD is traditionally found in deer in the southeastern United States, where deer have developed immunity to the disease. But for deer in Ohio and other parts of the Midwest where EHD is becoming more common, EHD can be deadly.
When a deer is sick with EHD, it may develop drooling and swelling. However, other symptoms of the disease in deer appear deeper.
“They experience a lot of things that are invisible to the naked eye,” said Michael Tonkovic, deer program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife.
Infected deer develop high fevers, body ulcers and internal bleeding, Tonkovic said. These injuries can make walking painful for the deer, so they may try to get around by crawling on their knees.
Sick deer also experience behavioral changes such as depression. The deer may appear lethargic and lethargic, and may walk in circles.
EHD-infected deer are referred to by the misnomer “deer zombie”. Tonkovic cautions against using the term to describe any deer disease or unusual deer behavior.
“The bad label came about because of another serious, always fatal deer disease, Chronic Wasting Disease,” he said. “As a result, many now do not understand what is killing these deer in Ohio and Indiana. To be clear, this is hemorrhagic disease, not CWD, and certainly not some kind of Z-disease.”
How the disease is transmitted
Deer suffering from EHD are infested with biting flies known as midges, or more commonly referred to as “invisibles” (from “invisibles” as the insects are tiny and difficult to see).
The midges carry the virus that causes EHD. So when insects bite a host, such as a deer, they transmit the virus into the host’s bloodstream.
Deer bitten by midges and then infected with the virus may take about 5 to 7 days to show symptoms of EHD, Tonkovic said. Approximately 8-36 hours after the onset of symptoms, the deer may die.
EHD infections tend to become more common during this time of year, especially during dry weather. This causes puddles of stagnant water and farm ponds to begin to dry up and expose mud flats where midges breed.
“So more and more habitats, more midges, more viruses, more dead deer,” Tonkovic said. He added that warm weather also allows the midges to breed faster, lay eggs and hatch.
The life cycle of midges will begin to slow down only in early November, which may affect the hunting season in local communities in Ohio.
“Only when the first frosts really kill these midges, we cannot rest on our laurels and take a breath, assuming that we will not see any further mortality,” Tonkovic said.
He noted that the disease is not contagious to humans, dogs and cats.