December 4, 2013 at 11:40 pm #1634MikeKeymaster
Hemorrhagic disease in deer – Virginia
Disease keeps spreading, killing deer
As the calendar continues its march toward the opening of Virginia’s deer hunting season, the serious outbreak of hemorrhagic disease continues its march across the state.
The disease is suspected to have killed deer in 26 counties, and the state’s wildlife veterinarian expects the number of affected counties to keep climbing.
“I’m going to continue to get calls until the first frost, which is still probably a few weeks off,” said Dr. Jonathan Sleeman of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Freezing temperatures kill the tiny biting midge flies that spread the disease, which appears regularly in Virginia and other states in the Southeast.
A number of other mid-Atlantic and Southeast states are also enduring big HD outbreaks this year.
The last major HD outbreak in Virginia was in 2002. That year the disease hit 35 counties, a record that may fall this season.
This year’s HD outbreak is unique in a couple of ways, Sleeman noted.
It started much earlier than normal, with the first reported case coming in late July. Usually, HD doesn’t appear until September.
Also unusual, but not surprising, is the intensity with which it has hit counties in the western part of the state.
The disease hadn’t even been confirmed in Western Virginia until a few years ago.
This year it has hit a number of counties west of the Blue Ridge Range, including Dickenson, Lee, Scott, Grayson, Pulaski, Roanoke, Botetourt and Alleghany.
Having had no previous exposure to HD has left those deer particularly vulnerable.
“They have less immunity,” Sleeman said.
Maintaining an accurate body count is difficult. Sleeman said he has gotten more than 50 separate reports, and that those reports account for at least 200 dead deer. But those reports certainly don’t include every deer that has died.
Even so, HD typically doesn’t have a major impact on statewide deer populations because disease hot spots tend to be concentrated. And even in such areas, the death rate rarely goes above 25 percent, Sleeman said.
Still, HD outbreaks can be frustrating for some landowners and hunt clubs who have put a lot into deer management plans only to lose a number of whitetails on their property to disease.
Having firmly established HD as the cause of the deaths, Sleeman said the state is no longer testing deer for HD or investigating reports of sick or dying deer in person.
“We still want people to call us with reports,” said Sleeman, adding that the information helps the game department track the outbreak.
Often, deer that die of HD are found near water. The virus causes high fevers and deer go to water for relief.
While HD has not been found to be a threat to humans, hunters are cautioned to use common sense. A deer that is obviously sick should not be consumed.
Urban archery seasons opened Saturday in a number of localities. The statewide early archery season opens Oct. 6.
There is no cure or treatment for HD, so the only option is to track the disease.
“Right now it’s just a matter of waiting it out,” Sleeman said.
Game officials aren’t only monitoring HD but also the chronic wasting disease threat.
This fall the game department plans to test deer from every county for CWD, the first statewide sampling effort for the disease since 2002.
Recent sampling efforts have focused on the areas of the highest concern, such as counties closest to Hampshire County, W.Va., where CWD was confirmed in 2005.
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