Epizootic hemorrhagic disease is the most common disease among whitetail deer. It’s transmitted by biting midges, and typically kills the host within a week. In the final days of an infected deer’s life, they’ll experience high fevers, ulcers, difficulty breathing, loss of awareness, and swelling in the head, neck, tongue, and eyes. Those uncomfortable symptoms explain why EHD deer often seek out and die near water.
It’s a lack of water that promotes EHD, though. The biting midges that pass on EHD thrive along waterways that have long mudlines, which is most common during drought. In extreme cases, EHD has wiped out 90% of herds. But, since this is a naturally occurring event, deer numbers usually bounce back with proper management.
If you needed all of that explained to you, then consider yourself lucky. EHD entered the vernacular for most whitetailers in 2012 and remained a prominent concern ever since. EHD happens every year to varying degrees, and 2019 has been no exception. Here’s how different regions have fared.
The Northeast appears to have escaped 2019 with little to no cases of EHD. Historically, that part of the country doesn’t see much of the disease because of their cooler temps and lack of droughts.
Pennsylvania hasn’t always been so fortunate, though. They were hit by EHD in 2011, 2012, 2017, and 2018, but most of those cases were very localized and didn’t have long-term repercussions. So far, no reports have surfaced in the state this year. Fingers crossed.
Like the Northeast, the majority of the Midwest has been wet enough this summer to avoid EHD. This region could certainly use a break, as hunters here know how devastating EHD can be after massive die-offs in 2007 and 2012 across much of the region.
Thankfully, there haven’t been any EHD reports out of Ohio, Wisconsin, or Michigan this year. A few reports sprung up in Minnesota last week, but experts are skeptical since the state has only had confirmed EHD cases once before.
Unconfirmed reports in Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois are starting to pop up, though, specifically in the southern portions of those states. These areas have been hit by EHD multiple times in the last decade.
“Over the last several years, Iowa summers seem to be warmer and drier, conditions that lead to the increased likelihood that an EHD outbreak will occur,” said James Lanier, QDMA Region 4 director. “If these reports can be confirmed and continues, it could be a tough season for those in the area and beyond.”
EHD rumors started trickling out of Missouri in July, and then pouring out of the Show Me State in August. Over the last month, dozens of landowners have reported finding groups of dead deer around water. Those cases remain unconfirmed, but all signs point to EHD.
The most famous of those incidents was documented on video and went viral on Facebook. In said video, a big, velvet buck strolled through a campsite, walked into a campfire, and then drowned itself in a creek. It’s hard to watch, but it shows the zombie-like demeanor that grips these infected deer.
The South could also use a break. Much of the area was pounded by EHD in 2012, with smaller die-offs every year since. Kentucky and Tennessee always seem to be in the EHD conversation, and that’s the case again this year.
One of the first confirmed cases of 2019 came from Kentucky. According to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, the state is due for another statewide outbreak, with the last large-scale outbreaks coming in 2007 and 2012. As of August 21, there were 22 suspected cases across 11 counties. But, the state expects those numbers to go up as more hunters hit the field.
“Kentucky’s archery deer hunting season opens early,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk program coordinator with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The department is asking hunters and other to be on the lookout for sick looking deer.”
Tennessee is on a similar trajectory to Kentucky, with 35 suspected cases across the state, according to the state’s deer program coordinator. They at least benefit from having an outbreak as recent as 2017, which means much of their herds should have some short-term immunity to the biting midges. EHD was so bad that year that the eastern part of the state had nearly 1,000 reported cases.
Other states that were hit by EHD in 2012 and 2017, like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas, have had little to no EHD reports this year.
Although parts of the West were devastated by EHD in 2012 and 2016, we haven’t found any confirmed reports this season. This part of the country deserves a respite, with some counties losing 80% of herds in 2012. The Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and the eastern portions of Wyoming and Montana saw massive die-offs from EHD over the last decade, as well as some nasty winterkill that also took down antelope and mule deer.
The region isn’t completely out of the woods yet, as most reported cases come in late summer and early fall. A few timely rain falls could put any EHD anxiety to rest, though.
“In the Northern Plains, we usually see minor disease losses, but some years losses can be significant,” Lanier said. “I haven’t heard of any confirmed cases yet, but it may be on the horizon.”
2019 EHD Summary
It looks like most of the country has avoided EHD thus far in 2019. Some localized die-offs have occurred, but that’s to be expected every year. With September upon us and frost on the way for the northern part of the whitetail’s range, most hunters and game agencies can put this disease behind them until next summer.