Joanie Haidle is accustomed to seeing deer around her rural Armstrong County home. But not drowned, half-submerged in the pond that fronts her home.
It was late summer when Haidle, an avid hunter, made the sad discovery. Since the deer showed no outward signs of trauma that would have contributed to its death, the Pennsylvania Game Commission was summoned.
Haidle said too much time had passed from the time the deer was discovered to when it was examined to say for sure, but it’s suspected the deer was suffering from epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which led to its weakened condition, and subsequent drowning.
“I’d never heard of epizootic hemorrhagic disease,” Haidle said. “I was familiar with chronic wasting disease, but this not this one.”
Indeed, chronic wasting disease poses a significant threat to our whitetail population, and rightly has been in the news, as the always-fatal disease slowly continues to make inroads in our state. The PGC has established three Disease Management Areas in response to the discovery of CWD in captive and free-ranging deer. While CWD is a disease of the brain and nervous system of deer, elk and moose, and can be spread from animal to animal, EHD comes from the bite of a fly or midge. In recent years outbreaks of EHD have occurred mostly in southwestern Pennsylvania.
According to the Game Commission, EHD can kill an infected animal within five to 10 days, but it is not spread from deer to deer. Agency officials note that while EHD is not infectious to humans, it is important to note that signs of EHD can be observed with other diseases of deer. However, there is no relationship between EHD and CWD.
PGC wildlife veterinarian Dr. Justin Brown said EWD should be curtailed with the first hard frost, which kill the insects that are spreading the disease. He noted that EWD, unlike CWD, is a seasonal disease that occurs sporadically in Pennsylvania. While deer mortality can be significant locally during outbreaks, there is no evidence that EHD can lead to long-term negative impacts on deer populations.
According to the Game Commission, clinical signs of hemorrhagic disease are all a result of the damage that the virus does to the walls of the blood vessels. They can range from sudden death to chronic disease. Clinical signs include swelling of the face or neck, loss of appetite, lethargy, weakness, lameness, respiratory distress, fever, and excessive salivation. Deer will often have ulcers in the mouth and may bleed from the nose and/or mouth. Infected animals may develop swollen, blue tongues. They will also often experience hoof overgrowth and may have indentations or cracks in the walls of their hooves. Usually infected deer will go into shock and die within eight to 36 hours of the onset of clinical signs.
Since finding the drowned deer in her pond, Haidle has noticed inordinate excessive numbers of turkey buzzard flocks circling the wooded areas near her home. She has heard tales of neighbors finding multiple dead deer on their properties and experienced the stench of rotting flesh while traveling local back roads — none of which are proof positive of an outbreak in her locale, but certainly enough to warrant concern.
“While nothing can be done to prevent or treat the disease, it’s important for folks to report any observations of dead or potentially sick deer to the Game Commission,” she said.
PGC Southwest Region Director Tom Fazi echoed that request, urging residents to report sightings of sick-looking or dead deer, which often are found near water, by calling their regional office.
The Southwest Region Office, which covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties, can be reached at (724) 238-9523; The agency’s Northwest Region Office serves Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, Warren counties and can be reached by calling (814) 432-3187.