Pennsylvania Hunters Warned About Concerning Viruses Infecting Deer Population

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

Hunters across the Keystone State are gearing up for the first day of rifle season which kicks off this month. However, as Pennsylvanians turn out in orange and camouflage hunting that trophy buck they’ve been tracking all season, the PA Game Commission has begun warning hunters about concerning viruses infecting the state’s deer population. These primarily include Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and Bluetongue Virus.

FOX43 reports that these diseases were initially recorded in deer located at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area. This particular region is located in Lebanon and Lancaster Counties, with reports initially recorded in September.

Dustin Stoner, who is affiliated with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, offered further details about these diseases. He detailed whether infected deer in the central region of the state would have an effect on opening day. He said, “There were several deer discovered and samples were recovered from two deer. EHD was determined to be the cause of death.”

In that specific region of the state, Stoner said total deer fatalities due to spreading viruses numbered around 50.

Stoner assured hunters that with colder weather approaching, the insects that spread these viruses to deer populations should die soon. As such, the upcoming rifle and muzzleloader seasons should roll out unaffected. Still, officials are warning hunters to take extra precautions and avoid harvesting deer that appear sickly. The Game Commission affiliate said, “Keep yourself protected if you harvest an animal that looks sickly, or doesn’t look right, or smells different.”

Precautions include wearing goggles and protective gloves.

What is EHD, and How Does the Virus Spread to Deer Populations?

While EHD does cannot infect humans, the virus often has fatal repercussions on deer populations nationwide. That’s why it’s important for hunters to know what to look for if they take down an infected deer.

According to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), EHD is “an acute, infectious, often fatal viral disease.” It is most prominently characterized by “extensive hemorrhages” in species including white-tailed deer.

Fortunately, the DNR reports that while EHD does have a high fatality rate, it cannot spread from contact between an infected deer and a non-infected deer. Instead, the animal must be bitten by a biting fly or midge, which serves as the infecting agent for this particular virus.

But what signs can we look for to determine whether a deer has in fact been infected by this often deadly virus? While some of the symptoms are not visual, several of them are pretty obvious. Common symptoms of EHD include a loss of appetite and a lack of fear of humans, progressive weakness, excessive salivation, and rapid pulse and respiration rate, as well as fever. Eventually, these animals become unconscious and, more often than not, die.