With deer hunting season beginning Monday in the Kingston region, Canadian wildlife officials are warning area hunters they may come upon deer already dead by a deadly virus.
The Ministry of Northern Development, Mining, Natural Resources and Forestry and the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative are investigating an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease that has left a number of deer dead in the area.
According to a recent blog post from the health co-operative written by wildlife pathologist Brian Stevens, the organization received reports of 30 dead deer on Wolfe Island at the end of September.
“I think the one group that was found was approximately 12 deer in a herd, and they were all found together dead at the same location that was reported to us,” Stevens said in an interview Monday.
Then came additional reports of dead deer from Gananoque Lake, Stirling and Kingston.
Three deer were submitted to the co-operative for testing, and Stevens says an animal lab in Guelph found that they were infected with epizootic hemorrhagic disease.
Although there are no human health concerns from the virus, it can be particularly deadly among the deer population.
The ministry confirmed the outbreak, and said it’s working with the co-operative to investigate.
A statement from the ministry said the virus is very infectious and often fatal among white-tailed deer. It is spread through insect bites of midges commonly called “no-see-ums.”
There is currently no treatment for the virus, but outbreaks are commonly short-lived, the ministry said.
Symptoms include loss of appetite, loss of fear of people, weakness and excessive salivation, rapid pulse and respiration rate, and signs of fever, which could include the deer submerging themselves in water to reduce body temperature.
People may be able to spot infected deer by a blue tongue, something that happens when the dear hemorrhage and lose oxygen in their bloodstream. The head, neck and tongue of infected deer may also swell.
Stevens says the virus is more common in the southern United States but outbreaks have been creeping north, likely due to climate change.
“Their herds in the southern US have immunity to this virus, so they do not have a lot of die-offs down there,” Stevens said.
He said more northern deer have little defence against the disease caused by the virus, leaving them vulnerable to serious illness and death.
Stevens noted that an outbreak of the virus was recently declared in Jefferson County, N.Y., right across the border from Wolfe Island.
“It is likely that midges from this county were blown by winds across the border to Wolfe Island and eventually to the surrounding Kingston region (as this is typically how these midges are dispersed),” Stevens said.
With deer hunting season in full swing in the area, the ministry asks anyone who comes across a deer they suspect was infected by epizootic hemorrhagic disease to report it by calling the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at 1-866-673-4781 or the Natural Resources information support centre at 1-800-667-1940.
In order to diagnose the disease, the entire deer carcass or vital organs must be submitted for testing within 24 hours of death.
The ministry also noted that those living regions affected by such outbreaks can help control them by clearing standing bodies of water commonly known to breed midges.