By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In late August, the first case of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) was confirmed in both whitetail deer and cattle, for Ohio. The virus was diagnosed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory.
The positive diagnoses were from a cow from Jefferson County and a wild whitetail buck from Lorain County.
The same ODA laboratory confirmed that a horse from Ashtabula County was confirmed to have eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). The horse, which was not vaccinated against the disease, lived near a low-lying area that is typically prone to harboring mosquitoes.
“Since many dead and sick-looking deer have been found recently, most near water, it points to another outbreak of EHD,” says West Virginia wildlife biologist Jim Crum. “Deer usually die quickly (5-10 days) after getting bitten by a midge several times.
“These tiny, fly-like insects bite the deer multiple times, sometimes laying eggs and passing along the deadly virus.” Wildlife officials from Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania have confirmed several cases of EHD in the
EHD cannot be passed from deer to deer, nor can it be transferred to humans or other animals. EEE, on the other hand, is often transmitted by mosquitoes and can be transmitted to humans.
Only a few cases are reported each year and most infected people report no apparent illness. “We always recommend that hunters avoid eating venison from deer that were obviously sick,” warned Dr. Iga Stasiak, veterinarian for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. Mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope are susceptible to EHD.
Crum said cattle may show signs including swelling of the muzzle, oral erosions, salivation, off feed condition and fever.
“EHD has been prevalent in the South for years, but the disease is spreading north,” he said. “The most severe cases in this region last hit in 2007, when large sweeps of deer were found dead. The last noted outbreak was in 2012.”
EHD is not to be confused with chronic wasting disease, or CWD. CWD is another disease that deadly affects whitetail deer, along with elk. That syndrome attacks the animal’s central nervous system and deteriorates the brain.
CWD can spread from deer to deer through direct contact. To date, CWD has not been found in any wild deer in Ohio, Kentucky or West Virginia.
While hunters have their worries, equine owners are on the watch as well.
“The confirmation of EEE in Ohio serves as a reminder to horse owners on the importance of vaccinating their animals,” said Dr. Tony Forshey, state veterinarian and chief of the ODA Division of Animal Health. “EEE is one of a handful of illnesses that horses can be protected from through vaccination, and I encourage owners to talk to their veterinarian and get horses vaccinated soon.”
EEE attacks the central nervous system of a horse. It appears within five days after a mosquito transmits the virus and clinical signs of illness are abrupt. Signs of EEE in horses include fever, a sleepy appearance, muscle twitches, weakness and a staggering walk.
Often the affected animals are unable to stand within hours of transmission and die within a few days.