Cover Photo Courtesy of Robert Woeger on Unsplash
The Ohio Division of Wildlife confirmed on Wednesday, August 31st, that there was an outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), which is also referred to as “Zombie Deer Disease.” This disease causes deer to seemingly lose their fear of humans.
13 different Southwestern Ohio counties have confirmed cases of deer infected with EHD. This includes Athens, Butler, Champaign, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Highland, Madison, Perry, Preble, Ross, Union, and Warren counties.
EHD is a virus that infects deer through the bites of small insects called midges, also called gnats, which live and breed in small pools of standing water. This disease is not spread from animal to animal and is not infectious to people or pets. Infected deer show symptoms within 5-10 days of being infected and many die within 36 hours of showing symptoms (The Journal).
Signs of this disease include swelling in the neck, head, or tongue, difficulty breathing, and walking in circles having their heads hung down. The most notable sign of this disease, however, is that deer seemingly lose all fear of humans, sometimes just standing and staring off into the distance, unfazed by the people around them. Infected deer also experience fevers and dehydration, so they’re likely to be found in or near bodies of water.
EHD is one of the most common ailments affecting deer right now, with cases happening most often in late summer and fall, as well as during periods of drought. Since the disease spreads through midges, which live in water, deaths from EHD in the deer population are expected to stop once the first frost sets in and midge activity begins to slow down.
There is also another disease that is commonly referred to as “Zombie Deer Disease” which causes deer to lose their fear of humans, called Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Chronic Wasting Disease is not caused by a virus but is instead caused by a misfolded protein, called a prion. While this means it is far rarer than EHD, CWD has been found here in Ohio starting last year. Though uncommon in Ohio, so far eight deer have tested positive in Wyandot and Marion counties.
Symptoms of CWD, similarly to EHD, include staggering, excessive drooling, and showing little to no fear of humans. Different from EHD, however, is the fact that deer infected with CWD can take months to show symptoms, instead of just a couple of weeks.
Ohio regulations state that all deer harvested in Wyandot, Marion, and neighboring Hardin counties must be tested for chronic wasting disease. More information about how to do that is available on ohiodnr.gov. Plus, although the Ohio Department of Natural Resources says there is “no strong evidence” CWD can infect humans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the meat of contaminated animals should not be consumed (The Enquirer).
Any sightings of sick or dead deer should be reported to wildohio.gov. This will not only help the Ohio Department of Natural Resources track the disease as it spreads, but will allow them to run tests to better understand this unusual disease.