SALEM — An insect-borne disease is killing white-tailed deer in South Jersey, with more reported cases in western Salem County than any other part of the state, wildlife officials said.
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease is not a public health issue, according to theNew Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. Infected deer cannot transmit the disease to people, other deer or any other animals, and humans are not at risk by handling infected deer.
However, state officials caution against eating meat of sickened deer because it may contain secondary infections that could be harmful to humans.
Exact numbers weren’t available, but Bill Stansley, research scientist with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, said there have been dozens of possible cases in Gloucester, Camden and Cape May counties, with the highest number of confirmed cases in the western part of Salem County.
“So far it seems to be confined to the southern part of the state, and in some areas it’s pretty intense,” Stansley said on Tuesday.
“Western Salem County is the worst area in the state, but statewide the intensity is not what we’ve seen in previous years.”
In 2011, there were no reported cases of EHD in Salem County, but the number of cases elsewhere throughout New Jersey were higher by this time last year, Stansley said.
EHD is a common viral disease in deer that is contracted from a species of small biting flies called midges. Outbreaks generally begin in August and end with the first frost, which kills the midges.
While EHD is closely related to Bluetongue virus and cross-reacts with it on many blood tests although they are different diseases, officials said.
Death happens swiftly for the deer after symptoms appear, which may include lethargy, disorientation and difficulty breathing. They suffer high fevers, and are commonly found near bodies of water in an attempt to cool off. They stop eating and drinking and may have bloody discharge coming from the nose or mouth. They also may lose their fear of people.
There is no vaccine or treatment.
EHD outbreaks have occurred in various parts of New Jersey since 1955, Stansley said.
Outbreaks in 1955, 1975 and 1999 were caused by the EHD serotype 1 virus, while outbreaks in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012 were caused by the EHD serotype 2 virus. The serotype 2 virus occurs every year in parts of the southern U.S.
It’s not clear why outbreaks are more significant during some years than others.
“There is a lot that is still not known about this disease,” Stansley said.
Eileen Urion, who lives on a six and a half acre tract in Pilesgrove Township that includes part of Oldmans Creek, has noticed several deer on her property who appear to be infected.
“One deer was circling and acting like it was in distress, kicking up dirt, then it keeled over and died,” said Urion who has lived at the same home in Pilesgrove for 30 years and never seen a suspected case of EHD before.
“What’s really sad is my husband took the body away, and the baby deer kept coming back to that spot looking for it. We’ve noticed several baby deer running around without their moms.”
Those who find dead deer are asked to call the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 908-236-2118 so officials can take tissue samples.
The state doesn’t handle the disposal of carcasses — since the disease isn’t a threat to people or other animals, property owners can “let nature take its course” and leave infected deer carcasses on their property, Stansley said.
In: Regional News, Science and Technology, Nature
Tags: nature, science, deer, disease
Location: New Jersey, United States (load item map)
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