By Amber Veverka
State scientists say they’re seeing a surging number of western North Carolina deer dead or dying of hemorrhagic disease, a condition transmitted by biting gnats.
Hemorrhagic disease enters the deer’s bloodstream and causes emaciation, loss of motor control, fever, lameness, and swelling of the neck and head. Often the sick deer seek water and are found dead near streams. Some affected deer show no symptoms.
Humans and domestic animals cannot catch hemorrhagic disease from deer, biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission say. To view the behavior of a deer with hemorrhagic disease, go to this Youtube video of a diseased doe in western N.C.
“Because the disease cannot spread to humans, hunters should not worry about dressing deer or eating venison,” said NCWRC spokeswoman Carolyn Rickard. “Deer that recover from an episode of hemorrhagic disease develop immunity to future outbreaks.”
Normally, hemorrhagic disease affects mainly coastal deer, but this month, scientists began getting reports of a jump in cases in western counties.
“We are concerned about the severity of the die-off happening right now in Caldwell, Wilkes and Surry counties,” said Ken Knight, NCWRC supervising wildlife biologist. “It’s too soon to say what the impact might be on the local population. There is absolutely nothing we can do about it either – other than try to document the extent of the outbreak and educate the public.”
Knight has unconfirmed reports of hemorrhagic disease in deer in Rowan and Montgomery counties, but none from Mecklenburg County.
“We did have some cases in [1999 and 2000] in the Latta/Cowan’s Ford nature preserve area,” said Chris Matthews, Natural Resources Manager with Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. “Our annual deer hunts have helped tremendously in reducing/eliminating this disease from the Mountain Island Lake area.”
Hemorrhagic disease isn’t the same as chronic wasting disease, a mad cow-like illness that has swept across western and Midwestern states. North Carolina is trying to keep CWD out of its deer herds by prohibiting hunters and taxidermists from bringing to the state the heads of deer and elk killed in areas where CWD is present. For more on CWD rules click here.
Biologists are trying to track where hemorrhagic disease is occurring. To report sightings of dead or dying deer, contact the Division of Wildlife Management at 919-707-0050 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More about the hemorrhagic outbreak:
“We see HD every year somewhere in NC,” said Ken Knight, supervising wildlife biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “Because it is a viral disease, a deer that gets the disease and survives will have immunity to it for the rest of its life. So the disease is somewhat cyclic since the immunity of a local deer population wanes over a period of years and makes the herd vulnerable again.”
The disease is transmitted by a biting gnat called a midge. Midges are most active in late summer and early fall, but this year, the disease outbreak began earlier, Knight said. “By late October when we’ve had some heavy frosts that kill the midge, we’ll see the disease taper off.”