Disease Outbreak Kills Approximately 700 Deer in New York

by Amy Myers

The annual disease outbreak is back and it’s worse than ever. Every year, New York loses hundreds if not thousands of whitetail deer to epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). The condition comes not from the animals themselves but rather from a traveling parasite. Biting midges commonly referred to as “no-see-ums” transmit the fatal disease, killing its host in roughly 36 hours. EHD only affects deer populations and cannot be transmitted to humans.

So far this season, New York has lost 700 deer from seven counties to the disease. The number will continue to rise until the forecast calls for a hard frost which will ultimately kill any remaining midges. While the state is no stranger to the condition, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation noted that the outbreak is much more widespread than in past years.

According to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s statement, New York first started seeing cases of EHD in deer in 2007. Up until 2011, the yearly outbreaks were relatively small and didn’t affect whitetail populations too dramatically. From early September to late October 2020, approximately 1,500 deer died as a result of EHD.

Typically, the state will start seeing cases of EHD in deer towards the end of summer or the first weeks of fall. However, this year, the Department began reporting cases in late July, foreshadowing a longer and more devastating effect on the whitetail population. If the rates continue as they are now, it’s likely this year’s death toll will exceed last year’s count.

EHD Affects Deer Population in New York and Southern States

Despite the explosion in EHD cases within the past two years, the Department of Environmental Conservation stated that the disease does not have a long-term effect on whitetail populations. Because the disease does not spread from deer to deer, EHD does not impact mating habits or birth rates. Still, this year’s elongated season could be cause for alarm. The more time the midges have to populate and spread among whitetail populations, the larger the mortality rate will be.

Even with the recent high numbers, EHD is still considered sporadic in New York. Meanwhile, in more southern and western states, the disease is endemic. Because EHD occurs more frequently in these states, some deer populations have built an immunity to the disease. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for whitetails in New York.

To help with research and analysis efforts, the Department of Environmental Conservation asks New York residents to report sightings of sick or dead deer with EHD. Symptoms of the disease include fever; hemorrhaging of the muscles or organs and swelling of the neck, head, lips or tongue. Deer with EHD may look to be dehydrated or lame and will frequently migrate towards water sources.