Epizootic hemorrhagic disease is the most common ailment 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 fever, ulcers, difficulty breathing, loss of awareness, and swelling in the head, neck, tongue, and eyes. Those uncomfortable symptoms explain why EHD-afflicted deer often seek out water and shade before death.
It’s a lack of water that promotes EHD, though. The biting midges that pass on EHD thrive along waterways that have long, mud shorelines, which is most common during drought. In extreme cases, EHD has wiped out 90% of some deer 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 has remained a prominent concern ever since. EHD happens every year to varying degrees, and 2020 has been no exception. Here’s how different regions have fared.
You can read our 2019 regional EHD report here.
Historically, this part of the country doesn’t see much of the disease because of cooler temps and a lack of droughts. Last year there were no reported outbreaks in the region.
But in true 2020 fashion, the area hasn’t been so fortunate this summer. For the first time in nearly a decade, New York has had “several” whitetails die from EHD. It appears that the virus has been limited to just a couple counties, but officials are monitoring the state’s herd for more cases.
“Sightings of sick or dying deer should be reported to the nearest DEC Regional Office or to an Environmental Conservation Police Officer,” the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said in a September 4 press release. “The Department of Agriculture and Markets has alerted deer farmers and veterinarians throughout the state to be aware of the disease and to report suspicious cases.”
Although 2019 was a mild year for EHD, the Midwest had it as bad as anybody last year. There were reports of minor outbreaks in Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois last summer, but Missouri saw the worst of it.
This year has been easier on the region. So far, the only confirmed reports are out of northwestern Ohio and southeastern Indiana. With no extended periods of unseasonably hot weather in the forecast, most of the Midwest should escape EHD season with hardly any losses.
“We are having a small scale outbreak in a limited portion of Franklin County,” said Joe Caudell, assistant director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife. “We were able to test one of those deer and it was positive. This appears to be a localized outbreak similar to what we could get almost any year.”
The South experiences some amount of EHD die-offs every year. Last summer was particularly hard on Kentucky and Tennessee. This year there have been few to no reports from the entire region.
Rumors have circulated on social media that Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kentucky have had a few outbreaks, but there have been none confirmed. Usually case numbers spike as hunters hit the field and discover dead deer, but with whitetail seasons in the South being open for almost three weeks, agencies are optimistic that they’ve made it through 2020 without that virus.
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 winterkill that also took down antelope and mule deer. This part of the country could use a respite.
Eastern South Dakota and Eastern Montana have had very localized EHD outbreaks this year. It’s nothing like what the West experienced in 2012 or 2016, though. Forecasts look favorable for the region, but arid parts of Montana and Wyoming aren’t out of the woods quite yet.
2020 EHD Summary
The majority of the country has avoided EHD thus far in 2020. A few minor die-offs occurred, but nothing on a scale that should affect deer hunting or deer management. With frost on the way for the northern part of the whitetail’s range, most hunters can put this disease behind them until next summer.
Feature image via Purdue University.