New Hampshire Wildlife Officials Report First-Ever Case of Whitetail Deer Infected With EHD

by Taylor Cunningham
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New Hampshire wildlife officials have reported a case of epizootic hemorrhagic disease. This is the first time in the state’s history that a deer has been affected by EHD.

NH Fish and Game released a statement on Sept. 26 saying that a white-tailed deer tested positive for the disease after officials found it dead in Merrimack county.

Biting midges, also known as no-see-ums, spread EHD to deer. The insects are common during drought conditions in late summer and early fall. Luckily, the first hard frost kills biting midges and ends any possible outbreaks. New Hampshire is expecting colder weather in the coming days and weeks, so officials believe EHD won’t have a chance to become widespread this year.

The disease causes dehydration, internal hemorrhaging, and high fever. Officials can spot sick animals because they typically have swollen heads, necks, and tongues, and they froth at the mouth. Because of the dehydration, affected deer are usually found dead near waterways. EHD cannot spread to humans—it can only live in deer.

EHD Only Affects Deer Populations in the Short Term

National Deer Association Chief Communications Officer Lindsay Thomas told Field & Stream that wildlife specialists cannot treat the disease, and there is nothing that can slow its spread. However, they can make regulation changes that can help minimize population-level impacts. So people should always report sick deer to their local agencies.

“Hunters are the eyes and the ears of wildlife agencies,” he said. “If you see a sick deer, don’t just take a video for social media and go ‘look at this. Ain’t this weird?’ Your first action should be to call your state wildlife agency and let them know.”

In the past, EHD has only survived in warmer climates. But in recent years, it has been detected in Vermont, Connecticut, and New York, which shows a dangerous new trend.

“It’s part of a pattern we’ve been seeing over the last ten years or so of EHD and bluetongue, which is a related disease, showing up in more and more places further north,” Thomas continued.

According to him, specialists believe that climate change is allowing the virus to move through different states because the vector is “finding more and more tolerable temperatures further north.”

While the news is alarming, EHD doesn’t typically impact deer populations in the long term. When states have an outbreak, the disease can kill off a large amount of deer. But the populations have historically rebounded quickly.

However, if EHD does continue to be a problem in coming years, New Hampshire deer populations may remain smaller longer than usual. But at some point, it will even out and become less of a problem.

“The further north you go, the less these deer populations have historical experience with the disease. This means they have less immunity and higher mortality rates,” Thomas added. “Over time, these deer populations can bounce back, but it does take a little longer in the north because you’ve got more deer dying.”