HARRISBURG – Dr. Walter Cottrell, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, announced that test results have confirmed that epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) is causing mortality in deer in parts of southwestern Pennsylvania. So far, more than 100 deer have been found dead in Greene and Washington counties, and the deaths are consistent with EHD. This marks the second time the disease has been confirmed in Pennsylvania.
Cottrell noted that tests were conducted at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia and Penn State University Animal Diagnostics Laboratory, and that those results confirmed that the most commonly found variant (Type II) of EHD was identified. Mortalities have been reported in Richhill, Gray, Morris, Aleppo, Jackson and Center townships in Greene County; and in West Finley, East Finley, South Franklin and Morris townships in Washington County.
“While we want to continue to receive reports about dead deer in these townships, we also are very most interested in hearing from those who find dead deer in other townships,” Cottrell said. “As tissue samples must be extracted within 24 hours of death to be suitable for conducting tests, it is important that we hear from residents as soon as possible.
“Hunters need to know that EHD cannot be contracted by humans, furthermore it is extremely rare — and highly unlikely — for this variant to cause clinical signs in traditional livestock, such as cattle, sheep or goats.”
Cottrell also advised that there is no evidence that humans can acquire the disease by touching or field-dressing a deer. However, as a routine precaution, all hunters are encouraged to wear rubber or latex gloves when handling or field-dressing an animal, and wash hands and tools thoroughly after field dressing. As with any wild game, always cook meat thoroughly.
EHD is a common disease in white-tailed deer populations of the United States, and is contracted by the bite of insects called “biting midges.” In northern states, EHD usually kills the animal within five to 10 days, and is not spread from deer to deer by contact. While EHD is not infectious to humans, deer displaying severe symptoms of EHD may not be suitable for consumption.
Cottrell stressed that even though some EHD symptoms are similar to those of chronic wasting disease (CWD) — such as excessive drooling, weakness and a loss of fear of humans — there is no relationship between EHD and CWD.
“Because these diseases can look alike in some ways, all of the deer that are submitted are being tested for CWD,” Cottrell said. “It also is worth noting that EHD is one of those diseases that can be amplified by anything that serves to congregate deer, such as supplemental feeding. Therefore, such activities should be discontinued immediately.”
Cottrell also pointed out that the EHD outbreak should end with the onset of colder weather, which will kill the insects that spread the disease. He noted that EHD, unlike CWD, is a seasonal disease and the affected local deer herd will rebound quickly.
“The good news from this situation is that the public is reporting these sightings to the Game Commission,” Cottrell said. “Should the state’s deer herd be infected with more serious diseases, the Game Commission will need to rely on the continued vigilance of the public so that we can respond in a timely manner.”
Matt Hough, Game Commission Southwest Region director, urged residents to continue to report unusual sightings by calling the region (724-238-9523). The Southwest Region serves Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
Residents in other counties are encouraged to call their respective regions.
In 2002, an EHD outbreak was confirmed in Greene and Washington counties. That same year, EHD was confirmed in Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. In 1996, EHD was suspected to be the cause of death in nearly 25 deer in Adams County, but test results in that case were inconclusive.
Numerous other states also are finding EHD-related mortality this year. Reports have been confirmed in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.