More than 8,700 white tail deer have been found dead across Michigan from an illness which causes severe hemorrhaging and ultimately, death.
As of October, 55 deaths have been reported in Washtenaw County, according to Brent Rudolf, deer and elk program leader for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, which affects wild ruminants, is to blame for the deaths. EHD is transmitted from deer to deer by a biting midge fly.
“Due to dry summer conditions and lakes and streams drying up, there are more of the insects this year,” Rudolf said.
Rudolf said EHD poses no threat to humans, but if a hunter kills a deer that looks sick, “don’t eat it.”
Hunters also should use safe practices, like wearing gloves when handling game, he said.
The DNR does not anticipate a serious impact on the deer population; however, hunters might want to consider taking less deer if they notice an area where the population may have been severely impacted, Rudolf said.
The DNR may make adjustments to the 2013 hunting season depending on what impact EHD has on the 1.7 million deer population in Michigan, he said.
Rudolf said the disease has been reported in 26 Michigan counties, but the total number of deaths remains unclear. More deaths will be discovered as hunters make their way into the wilderness during hunting season, which began on Oct. 1 and continues through the end of November.
Michigan deer have no antibodies against the disease, like deer in southern states that have been exposed to EHD, so it may take a few years for Michigan deer to develop antibodies, Rudolf said.
“There are different strains of the virus, so if a different strain develops the antibodies that deer have developed after being exposed to the disease will not help," he said.
According to www.michigan.gov, deer infected with EHD exhibit many symptoms, including loss of appetite and weakness. Infected deer also appear to lose their fear of humans, as well as salivate excessively. About eight to 36 hours after the deer exhibits symptoms, the animal enters a shock-like state and dies from hemorrhaging and a lack of oxygen in the blood.
Hemorrhaging affects the main organs of the animal, including the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, intestinal tract and spleen. Many of the deer are found near water where they travel to cool themselves from the fever.
Deer die-offs are a natural occurrence and have occurred by a disease that officials say could be linked to EHD in 1974, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010. EHD was first identified in 1955.
Anyone who discovers a large concentration of dead deer is asked to contact their local wildlife office. A list of wildlife offices can be found by visiting www.michigan.gov/wildlife.