This year’s outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in deer appears over. The killing frosts of the past week have eliminated most of the midges (gnats) which carry the disease.
Biologists with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources have not received any new reports of deer deaths associated with the disease in several days, said Tina Brunjes, the department’s big game coordinator. Department officials have documented more than 4,000 deer deaths from the disease.
“There’s no way to put an actual number on the deer that have died as a result of EHD,” Brunjes said. “However, hunters have taken more than 18,000 deer this season, which is around average at this point of the season.”
The disease, while fatal to deer, cannot be transferred to humans. Eating the meat of deer that appear to be healthy poses no risk to humans even if the deer is infected with hemorrhagic disease. Hunters, however, should not eat animals that appeared emaciated or weak prior to harvest, due to the risk of secondary infections. Hemorrhagic disease can cause large abscesses to form in the body cavity, muscle tissue or under the skin. These abscesses render the meat inedible. Modern gun season for deer, which opens statewide Nov. 10, will provide the best indication of the severity of the outbreak. Most deer are taken during the modern gun season. If the numbers are down considerably, that will provide biologists a better idea of the size of the state’s existing deer herd.
“We will continue to track harvest throughout the modern gun season in an effort to gauge the total impact of EHD,” said Wildlife Division Director Karen Alexy. “Right now, there’s no way to estimate the number of deer that have died from EHD.”
Officials in several surrounding states reported similar outbreaks this year. Department officials will evaluate total deer numbers and recommend any changes to deer zones in 2008, if needed, at the March meeting of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission. Prior to the outbreak, Kentucky’s deer herd numbered nearly a million. Brunjes noted that deer are prolific breeders.
Even if the disease hit a local area hard this year, she said, the number of deer in the area will likely rebound within two years because of reproduction and animals moving in from other areas.
For a listing of all of Kentucky’s deer seasons and hunting regulations, consult the 2007-2008 Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide, available wherever hunting licenses are sold.