The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Outdoors

August 23, 2012

Deer deaths probed

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation officers are investigating the cause of death for more than 35 white-tailed deer in Cambria and Beaver counties. Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) is suspected.

Game commission biologists recently submitted three samples for testing from deer found in Summerhill Township in Cambria County (one female) and Greene Township and Ohioville Borough in Beaver County (one male and one female) to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia. The agency will continue to gather samples from other dead deer being found in other municipalities. Due to decomposition, samples must be collected within 24 hours of the animal’s death for the samples to be viable. Once the results are available, the game commission plans to release the findings to the public.

“While we must wait for test results to confirm just what caused these deer to die, at this time, we are suspecting that the deer died of EHD, based on field signs that we are seeing,” said Dr. Walter Cottrell, game commission wildlife veterinarian. He noted that, earlier this month, EHD was confirmed in Oklahoma and Nebraska.

EHD is one of the most common diseases among white-tailed deer in the United States, and is contracted by the bite of insects called “biting midges.” EHD usually kills the animal within five to 10 days, and is not spread from deer to deer. While EHD is not infectious to humans, deer displaying severe symptoms of EHD may not be suitable for consumption.

Cottrell stressed that even though some EHD symptoms are similar to those of chronic wasting disease (CWD) – such as excessive drooling, unconsciousness and a loss of fear of humans – there is no relationship between EHD and CWD.

Cottrell also pointed out that EHD should be curtailed with the first hard frost, which will kill the insects that are spreading the disease. He noted that EHD, unlike CWD, is a seasonal disease and the affected local deer herd can rebound quickly.

“The good news from this situation is that the public is reporting these sightings to the game commission,” Cottrell said. “Should the state’s deer herd be infected with more serious diseases, the game commission will need to rely on the continued vigilance of the public so that we can respond in a timely manner.”

Game commission Southwest Region Director Pat Anderson is urging residents to report sightings of sickly looking deer, particularly those found near water, by calling the region office at (724) 238-9523. The Southwest Region serves Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Residents in other counties are encouraged to contact their respective regions.

In 2011, EHD was confirmed in Northampton and Erie counties.  EHD was confirmed in southwestern Pennsylvania in 2007 and 2002, and was suspected to be the cause of death in nearly 25 deer in Adams County in 1996. However, tests conducted at that time were inconclusive.

For more information on EHD, go to the game commission’s website at www.pgc.state.pa.us.

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