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Virus that can kill deer has been found in Eastern Kentucky

A white-tailed deer was spotted in the woods at McConnell Springs in 2014.
A white-tailed deer was spotted in the woods at McConnell Springs in 2014. Herald-Leader file

A viral disease is affecting deer in Kentucky, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed Thursday.

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, or EHD, has been reported among white-tailed deer in several Eastern Kentucky counties.

The disease, which is transmitted among deer by the bite of a midge or gnat, cannot be transferred to people or pets, the department said in a news release.

“However, we always recommend that hunters avoid eating venison from deer that were obviously sick,” Dr. Iga Stasiak, veterinarian for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in the release.

EHD is related to another hemorrhagic disease known as bluetongue virus. Infected deer experience fever and dehydration, and because of that they are often found dead near bodies of water. They may appear sluggish and unresponsive to people, the department said.

The disease kills a small number of deer in Kentucky every year, with larger outbreaks about every five to seven years. Kentucky’s last significant outbreaks were in 2007 and 2012, according to the department.

So far this year, small outbreaks have been reported in the mountainous areas of Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“We’re monitoring this situation closely,” said Gabe Jenkins, big game coordinator for the fish and wildlife department. “If we receive little rain between now and the first frost, the numbers could increase because deer are drawn to water. Midges breed along mud banks, so drought would concentrate the deer around larger bodies of water and make them more susceptible to infection.”

The bugs that carry the virus die after the first frost, ending the outbreaks.

Anyone who finds a sick deer or a deer that appears to have died of natural causes is asked to contact the department of fish and wildlife at 1-800-858-1549. Reports can also be emailed to info.center@ky.gov. Include your name, contact information, county and date the deer was found, number of deer found and whether the deer is sick or recently deceased.

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