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Oconto County deer tissue tests positive for virus causing sometimes fatal disease

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 3:13 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 17, 2020 at 7:39 PM CDT
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OCONTO, Wis. (WBAY) - Wildlife biologists say the first frost will bring an end to a fatal deer disease that’s surfaced in Oconto County, killing a number of deer.

The Wisconsin DNR says a tissue sample found in an Oconto County deer tested positive for a virus which causes epizootic hemorrhagic disease, also known as EHD.

State officials say the virus which causes EHD is carried by midges, which are small flies also known as biting gnats or no-see-ums.

According to the DNR, the virus doesn’t infect humans, and people aren’t at risk of developing the disease from the virus even if they handle infected deer, eat venison from infected deer, or are bitten by infected midges.

Pritzl says last weekend, a landowner discovered 7 dead deer on his property, just north of Oconto Falls. Two other deer were found dead on a neighboring property.

Tissue samples confirmed EHD.

“The environmental conditions have to be just right for that midge population to erupt, and then if the virus is present, and the other part of it is, when we see these pop up as what you’d call a die-off, it happens in areas of relatively high deer densities where there’s a lot of animals concentrated,” Pritzl said.

Although EHD is common across the southern and western portions of the country, EHD has surfaced in Wisconsin twice in the last decade, killing about 300 deer each time.

“The strains of it that tend to pop up in the Midwest are rather strong viruses, and deer don’t have a lot of resistance to it because it doesn’t happen that often up here, so if they get the disease the mortality rate tends to be relatively high and they die relatively quickly," DNR wildlife biologist Jeff Pritzl said. "They don’t show a lot of physical signs of distress, but the common denominator often is that they’re found dead near a water source.”

Other signs of EHD are excessive salivation or foaming around the nose and mouth, and appearing weak and approachable by humans.

Officials say the disease is typically short lived, and the flies which carry the disease die with the first hard frost, and when a deer has EHD they typically die within 7 days of infection.

In addition, the DNR says unlike chronic wasting disease, the carcasses from deer which died due to EHD aren’t a threat to spreading the disease to other deer since the virus doesn’t survive for long once an infected deer dies, and the carcasses won’t be collected or removed.

“Deer can’t give it to each other and the virus does not persist once the deer dies,” Pritzl said.

Still, officials say they advise against handling any deer carcasses because other harmful bacteria and viruses may be present in the carcass.

DNR officials say an EHD outbreak in Crawford and six surrounding counties last fall affected about 300 deer, and in 2012, another outbreak is suspected of killing about 380 deer in Dane and Columbia counties.

If you see a sick or dead deer, you’re asked to contact your county wildlife biologist, which can be found here, and provide the following information:

  • Condition of the deer
  • Exact location of where the deer was observed
  • Condition of the carcass/carcasses

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