Warren County hunters scouting the woods this deer season shouldn’t be surprised to find some animals already dead.
Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) biologist John Vogel said drought conditions have spiked the normally low number of deer dying from hemorrhagic disease, a quick-killing illness caused by a virus spread from deer to deer by a tiny fly about the size of a gnat. Hemorrhagic disease (HD) includes blue tongue and EHD.
“What happens is, in a drought the water supplies dry up, forcing more deer to share the same water sources,” Vogel said. “Mud surrounding the water sources contains lots of insects, including the midge fly, a small fly no bigger than a gnat that bites a deer that’s infected with the virus, then transmits it to a healthy deer.”
Hemorrhagic disease, as the name implies, causes deer to bleed to death internally, Vogel said, usually within one to three days.
“As of Oct. 10, there were more than 5,000 cases (of the disease) statewide,” he said. “We expect the numbers to go up as hunters go out and spot them.”
Hunters need not worry about unknowingly handling or consuming an infected deer, as there is no evidence to suggest a human health risk, however, MDC does not recommend eating meat from an infected animal.
HD infected deer often exhibit lesions or ulcers on the tongue, dental pad or stomach and may also have swollen tongues, eyelids, head or neck. They can also exhibit signs of lethargy, loss of their fear of humans and incoordination or lameness. However, a confirmed diagnosis can only be done by laboratory testing, but MDC is no longer accepting tissue samples for testing because they have already confirmed the existence of the virus in Missouri.
According to a report from MDC, Warren County has seen 34 cases thus far, Franklin County has reported 22, and Lincoln and Montgomery counties have seen 31 and 36 respectively. However, some of the more northern counties have seen up to 200 deer dying from HD.
“There has been a lot of disappointment from hunters already,” Vogel said. “The disease is not just specific to either bucks or does, but affects all deer. Hunters have reported seeing some really big bucks dead in the woods already.”
Vogel said the disease normally only affects states in the southeast, such as Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas, but this year the drought cases are being reported as far north as South Dakota and Michigan.
The disease will most likely taper off after two good frosts when the flies that carry it are killed off, Vogel said.
Missouri hasn’t seen this many cases of hemorrhagic disease since 2007.
For more information, call MDC at 636-441-4554, or visit www.mdc.mo.gov.