While humans deal with flu season each year, the white-tailed deer experience a disease called Hemorrhagic Disease of HD.
The College of William and Mary recently reported cases of deer deaths in the College Woods in a news release earlier this month.
The disease is spread by tiny biting flies commonly known as midges, also locally called sand gnats, no-see-ums, and punkies.
The flies become increasingly worse depending on how wet the summers are, and 2020 had an extremely damp summer.
HD usually occurs from the end of summer throughout the beginning of fall, relating to the abundance of the biting midges.
Freezing weather accompanied by winter usually kills the midges, bringing a sudden end to HD outbreaks, according to the Department of Wildlife Resources.
“We get this disease every single year, and especially in the eastern part of the state it’s pretty common,” said Katie Martin, deer, bear, and turkey biologist for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
Martin added at least 10 deer suspected of having HD have been reported in the Kingsmill area. The Department of Wildlife Resources have received at least 45 reports of HD from 26 counties across the state.
The good thing is the disease isn’t contagious like the flu or COVID-19. It cannot be spread from a carcass or another infected deer. In order for a deer to get infected, they must be bitten by the midges carrying the virus.
Martin said the disease only affects hooved animals, and can affect livestock like cattle and sheep but to a lesser extent.
It’s also not dangerous to pets or people.
“It’s not dangerous to humans, so we can’t pick it up,” Martin said. “You can’t get it from being around a deer or touching a deer who has had it.”
While humans and other animals are in the clear, the disease can be horrible for the deer. Symptoms for them include swollen head, neck, tongue, or eyelids, fever, lethargy, or difficulty breathing.
There is unfortunately no treatment for HD nor is there a way to prevent the spread.
“A lot of deer do survive it,” Martin said. “If they’re able to settle down somewhere, stay in a cool spot, and get some water, a lot of them will actually survive and get over it. Unfortunately, a lot do succumb to it and end up dying from it.”
Martin said the disease should not affect populations too severely nor will it affect populations for hunting.
So what should you do if you come across a deer suspected of having HD?
The Department of Wildlife Resources advises people not to contact, disturb, kill, or remove the animals.
Diseased animals should be reported to the department with the approximate location of the animal by calling 804-829-6580.
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