Drought is the best predictor for viral disease killing deer

Published: Oct. 4, 2019 at 5:37 PM EDT
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Deer are dropping dead in Virginia from the Hemorrhagic Disease. They've seen this disease before, but the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says it's biggest outbreak in our area in over 20 years.

Matt Knox works at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. He's been supervising the deer program for 30 years.

"Seasons, regulations, bag limits, check stations, just everything, and of course, disease surveillance, in this case, Hemorrhagic Disease," Matt Knox, Deer Program Supervisor for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said.

It's a common infectious disease of white-tailed deer, but Knox hasn't seen it hit our region like this before.

"This is probably the biggest outbreak we'e had in the 25 years I've been here in this area," Knox said.

Virginia officials say they received reports from 38 counties involving 180 deer, but the worst hit areas are in our region.

"It's flaring this year, especially around here around Bedford, Franklin Counties, hit Patrick County," Knox said.

He says the best predictor of this disease is the drought.

"Disease is transmitted by a little midge or biting gnat. Well, it just so happens that this midge habitat that it does best in is on these mud flats. Whenever there's a drought, water levels fall and you get these mud banks, these sticky mudbanks, that's just the perfect breeding habitat for these midges," Knox said.

But one cold frost can completely eliminate the disease. HD doesn't pose a threat to humans or pets, but Knox says to be on the lookout.

"You find dead or dying deer, they're generally found near water in late summer, early fall, and the reason they go to water, is when they get this disease, it's a viral disease, and they get a scalding, burning hot fever," he added.

Knox expects deer numbers to be down, affecting deer hunting season.