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Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease in New York State

Map of U.S. Distribution of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease
U.S. Distribution of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is the most important infectious viral disease among white-tailed deer. The landmark outbreak of the virus was identified and described in New Jersey in 1955. It occurs every year in many southeastern states and has been recently reported throughout the mid-Atlantic. In states where the disease has been detected, it has not had a significant negative impact on the long-term health of the deer herd. It tends to infect only localized pockets of animals within a geographic area.

Map of Counties with EHD outbreaks in New York
EHD Counties in New York

In October 2007, the first case of EHD in New York was confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa and the Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study Group. Several deer carcasses from parts of Albany and Rensselaer Counties were submitted to the DEC Wildlife Pathology Unit for examination and tissue analysis. In November, Niagara County was added to the confirmed list. A combination of case history, characteristic signs and lesions, and the isolation of the virus is necessary for a diagnosis of the disease. Typically, the virus deteriorates in about twenty four hours after death and cannot be spread from deer carcasses. Presently, there are no wildlife management tools or strategies to prevent or control EHD.

The virus is transmitted from animal to animal by bites of infected midges (Culicoides), commonly referred to as "no-see-ums" or "gnats". All documented outbreaks of EHD tend to occur during late summer and early fall due to an increase in midge numbers and cease with the onset of a hard frost killing the virus carrying midges and virus. Outbreaks can range from a few mild cases to high deer mortality.

There are several different forms of EHD, but usually in a new outbreak, the very rapid form occurs and kills the animal within one to three days of infection. There are several symptoms of EHD, all of which are not necessarily present in all infected deer. They include: swollen head, neck, tongue or eyelids with a bloody discharge from the nasal cavity; erosion of the dental pad or ulcers on the tongue; and hemorrhaging of the heart, lungs causing respiratory distress. Additionally, the virus creates high feverish conditions leading infected deer to sometimes be found near water sources. For more detailed information about EHD, visit the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study website in the right column of this page.

EHD does not infect humans and people are not at risk by handling infected deer, eating venison from infected deer, or being bitten by infected midges. It rarely causes illness in domestic animals, such as cattle, sheep, goats, horses, dogs and cats. As always, hunters should observe normal precautions around any sick or strange-acting animals. Wearing gloves when field dressing game and washing their knife is recommended. Hunters should also wash any part of their body exposed to animal tissue, blood or urine. Simply use hot water and soap. Sick or groups of dead deer should be promptly reported to the nearest DEC regional wildlife office or the DEC Pathology Unit in Delmar.