Whitetail Deer Disease: Understanding EHD


Written by Kari Singleton
WWA Social Media Coordinator/Female Prostaff Coordinator


It seems like every 3 to 4 years we are talking about large outbreaks of whitetail deer disease; however, it is important to note that these diseases are also common to mule deer and antelope as well. And, this year (2017), the disease we are all worrying about is EHD. Cases are quickly popping up and being reported throughout the United States. As deer hunters, it is important that we know the signs of deer disease and what we should do if we see an affected animal. So, let’s take a closer look at the disease we are all talking about this year.

EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease)

First, it is important to know that EHD is a virus. And, more importantly, it is not contagious. In other words, it cannot be spread from deer to deer. Instead, this disease is spread mainly via the midge, which is a small biting fly (also known as no-see-ums, sandflies, punkies, and various other names). EHD is also simply called HD, and may even be referred to as blue tongue. And although very similar, blue tongue and EHD (HD) are not the same disease.

Now, let’s look at why it seems to be more prevalent in certain years. EHD most commonly occurs
during years of extreme heat and drought. Though with anything, there can be exceptions to the rules, which seems to be the case this year (at least in my area). So, why during extreme heat and drought? Well, that answer is rather simple. Because of the drought, a lot of water holes will have dried out, leading the deer and insects to more likely be sharing water sources. The midges lay their eggs in the mud at the waters’ edge; they are not water dwellers, and they love disturbed areas of mud. So, where the deer have been walking through the mud to get to the water are perfect sources for the midge to lay their eggs. Once hatched, the midge does not go far as they are not strong fliers. So, that means those nasty little insects are most likely going to be somewhat close to the water source waiting on their victims. As with many other insects, the female is the culprit; only female midges are blood suckers. There you have it; this is how EHD is spread and why it is more common in certain years or areas.

Next, what are the signs and symptoms, and is EHD fatal? Let’s start with the last part of that
question. While EHD can be fatal, many deer completely recover from this disease. Now, the signs and symptoms. How do you know if a deer has EHD? A deer with EHD may look very similar to one afflicted with CWD, in the fact that EHD causes a lack of appetite; therefore, the deer may become very thin giving them the appearance of wasting away. Other signs and symptoms include a loss of fear, high fevers, rapid heart rate and respirations, excessive salivation, and weakness. Deer with EHD will often be found lying in bodies of water as they are trying to find a way to reduce their body temperature. EHD afflicted whitetail may also become unconscious and have blue tongues due to lack of oxygen to their bodies. It is also possible for the effected deer to have swollen heads and necks.

EHD is a rapidly developing disease with symptoms appearing in as little as 7 days after being bitten. The disease is most prevalent during the months of August through October. Once cooler temperatures, particularly frost come on, the disease tends to disappear as the midges begin dying off.

Well, that pretty much sums up what EHD is. I’m sure you’re wondering though if the meat from a deer with EHD is safe to eat. And, according to current research, yes it is. Remember, this EHD is not contagious and there are no reported cases of anyone becoming sick from eating an afflicted animal. However, whether or not you want to eat the meat from a sick deer is completely up to you.

Now, what should you do if you suspect a deer has EHD or you find a deer that you think may have died from the disease? I’m sure you already know the answer to that, but of course you should contact your local wildlife office or state wildlife office or department of natural resources.

Hopefully this answers some of your questions or concerns about EHD. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below, or you may contact us at woodsnwater2015@gmail.com.

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