UPDATED on Monday, October 25, 2021
The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) has confirmed that samples taken from three dead deer (an adult buck and a doe fawn from Wolfe Island and an adult buck from Gananoque Lake) have tested positive for epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). According to the CWHC, dead deer were also reported in the Stirling, Kingston, and Lansdowne areas.
Please scroll below to read more about what EHD is, what OFAH is doing about the potential issue and what, you, as hunters, can do about it.
What is the OFAH doing?
The OFAH is monitoring the situation closely and is in contact with wildlife disease personnel with the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (NDMNRF). In addition to the confirmed cases of EHD in eastern Ontario, there are currently outbreaks of EHD in Michigan and New York State counties bordering southwestern and eastern Ontario, respectively. At this time, no potential cases of EHD have been reported in southwestern Ontario.
The OFAH maintains a professional working relationship with staff from both the NDMNRF and the CWHC in order to ensure that our members are kept informed of any potential wildlife disease threats and to provide any support that is needed. We have also financially supported wildlife disease research through the CWHC.
With the confirmation of EHD in eastern Ontario, the OFAH will work to ensure that deer management in Ontario recognizes and accounts for this new mortality source, so that Ontario continues to support healthy deer populations and sustainable deer hunting opportunities. There are currently no preventative measures or treatments for EHD. In general, keeping deer populations at ecologically sustainable levels can make them more resilient to stressors such as disease, and that has always been an OFAH priority.
What should you do as a hunter?
Hunters play an important role in the early detection of wildlife diseases and health threats. Hunters spend a lot of time in nature and from this experience have a good gauge of what is normal and can identify what is not. Hunters also tend to venture far off the beaten path, which means they may see something that a member of the general public might not. This makes hunters ideal wildlife disease sentinels. When you encounter sick, strange-acting, or dead wildlife, you should report what you find to the CWHC at http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/report_and_submit.php.
In Ontario, we’re quite lucky when it comes to wildlife diseases and, historically, we’ve been spared even those diseases present in neighbouring jurisdictions. Unfortunately, this likely will not continue to be the case as climate change contributes to the spread of disease. Early detection is crucial for identifying new and emerging disease threats and the important role that hunters play in this cannot be overstated.
The take-home message here is if you see something, report it.
What is EHD?
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease is a viral disease that predominantly affects white-tailed deer but has also been known to affect mule deer and American pronghorn. EHD is sometimes referred to as bluetongue due to a similarity of symptoms but that is a separate disease that affects primarily livestock.
EHD is one of the deadliest diseases of white-tailed deer in the United States and outbreaks can kill large numbers of deer, especially in northern areas that have not historically had the disease. Over the past 50 years, Michigan has had multiple outbreaks. Most had reported counts of dead deer ranging from 4 to 1,000 animals. A 2012 outbreak in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula killed approximately 15,000 deer. EHD was detected in two deer from southwestern Ontario in 2017 but no further mortalities were reported.
EHD is spread by small midges of the genus Culicoides, which many Ontarians would refer to as ‘no-see-ums’. Warm winds can carry these midges north into new areas and result in new outbreaks. The midges bite infected deer and then transfer the virus to new animals. Outbreaks usually occur in late summer or early fall until a frost kills off the midges. EHD cannot be spread from deer to deer and dead deer are not sources of infection.
EHD follows a fast progression. Symptoms can develop in approximately seven days with death occurring eight-to-36 hours later. Mortality rates are high among northern deer populations that have not previously been exposed to the disease. According to the NDMNRF, symptoms include:
- loss of appetite
- loss of fear of people
- excessive salivation
- rapid pulse and respiration rate
- signs of fever, including submersing themselves in bodies of water to reduce their body temperature
- a blue tongue from hemorrhaging and lack of oxygen in the blood due to the effects of the virus
- swelling of neck and head or otherwise unhealthy appearance
- many infected deer may be found in one place, or in close proximity
Please note that while several of these symptoms are shared with chronic wasting disease (CWD), the two diseases are completely unrelated. EHD is a rapid onset disease whereas the symptoms of CWD typically take months or years to develop. Deer showing symptoms of CWD tend to also appear skinny and malnourished, the “wasting” in CWD, and are typically not found dead in groups. Regardless, any sick, strange-acting or dead deer should be reported immediately to the CWHC.
There is no human health risk from being bitten by EHD-positive midges or from consuming meat from EHD-infected animals that appear otherwise healthy. Proper handling and cooking techniques should always be used for wild game. EHD can infect domestic animals but this rarely results in disease.
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