Wildlife officials on lookout for ailing deer

October 13, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |

HAGERSTOWN — A confirmed case of epizootic hemorrhagic disease was discovered in a white-tailed deer in the Williamsport area in late summer, and other cases have been reported in the Clear Spring area, according to a Maryland Department of Natural Resources official.

Brian Eyler, deer project leader for the DNR, said he’s not concerned about the disease, which does not affect humans, but the agency will continue to monitor it. The part of the deer population that isn’t genetically resistant to hemorrhagic disease will bounce back, he said.

There are cases of the disease every year in Maryland, but in some years that number rises to about 200, with fewer than 10 cases in a low year, Eyler said. The number of reported cases this year is approaching 100, he said.

More of a concern is chronic wasting disease, a case of which was  confirmed in a white-tailed deer harvested by a hunter in neighboring Allegany County in November 2010, according to Eyler and the DNR website.

However, there have been no new cases in Maryland since then, Eyler said.

Chronic wasting disease is similar to mad cow disease, Eyler said. There’s no indication humans can contract chronic wasting disease, but research hasn’t proven that with 100 percent certainty, he said.

“We recommend that hunters don’t consume any kind of a strange or sick-acting animal,” Eyler said.

Archery season for deer began in September, and muzzle-loader season begins next week. In general, people should wear gloves when handling deer or other wildlife, such as surgical gloves when cleaning game, Eyler said.

Whether it’s chronic wasting disease or hemorrhagic disease, DNR officials want to know if people have seen a sick or strange-acting deer, Eyler said. Some of the symptoms for the two diseases are similar, with deer that have contracted either disease experiencing a loss of coordination, Eyler said.

Deer with chronic wasting disease will get thin and emaciated before they die, he said.

“They literally will waste away,” Eyler said.

Deer with hemorrhagic disease often are found near water because the virus causes a high fever so deer seek to quench their thirst, he said. They might exhibit tremors and have trouble standing, but would not have open wounds other than in the mouth, Eyler said.

If a dead deer or a group of dead deer are found, and it appears suspicious, call DNR officials, Eyler said. If the carcass is fresh, a sample can be taken for testing.

The Washington County case of hemorrhagic disease that was confirmed in a lab was reported at the Potomac Fish and Game Club near Williamsport in late August or early September, Eyler said.

Other cases of hemorrhagic disease have been reported in Frederick County, Kent County and Southern Maryland, Eyler said. Hemorrhagic disease is transmitted by biting midges, a type of gnat.

Hemorrhagic disease started in the South and has slowly progressed north, probably due to warmer temperatures with climate change, Eyler said. New York documented its first case within the past two years, he said.

He encourages anyone who sees a sick or strange-acting deer to call their local DNR office. In Washington County, call 301-842-0332.

For more information about deer diseases, go to the Department of Natural Resources’ website at

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