Deer Contract Virus In 40 Indiana Counties

Thousands of deer in Indiana have contracted epizootic hemorrhagic disease, a virus that can be fatal to the animals.

white-tailed deer

Photo: Janet and Phil (Flickr)

White-tailed deer are susceptible to the virus known as EHD.

Deer in 40 Indiana counties, including Morgan, Sullivan, and Putnam, have tested positive for a deadly virus. The disease is not known to affect humans.

EHD, formally known as epizootic hemorrhagic disease and similar to a disease called bluetongue, is brought on by a specific breed of flies called, “midges,” along with droughts and warm fall weather.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources biologist Chad Stewart says exactly how many deer the virus has infected is still unknown.

“We’re identifying counties where the reports have come from,” he says. “It’s really difficult to quantify, but certainly we’ve probably have had several thousand deer in the state die from this disease.”

The current strain seen in Indiana deer is believed to have originated in southern Michigan.

Because of warm weather, the flies continue to hatch, spreading the disease. The virus can kill a deer in one to five days, and infected deer show symptoms of being depressed and feverish.

“The good news is that the survivors will have immunity to the disease and are going to pass some of that immunity on to their offspring,” Stewart says. “So in reality the herd, as a function of going through this disease, becomes a lot stronger in the long run for it.”

Though no human cases of the virus have been identified, the DNR says humans should not eat deer that are visibly sick.

  • Duane A. Murphy, DVM, PhD

    I’m concerned about the wording of the last sentence, as it seems to imply that humans could possibly be susceptible to EHD virus. It fact, it is well established that humans are not susceptible to the virus. Furthermore, if we were susceptible, we would catch it by being bitten by Culicoides midges (no-see-ums), NOT by exposure to infected deer meat. The precaution to avoid eating the meat of sick animals is a blanket precaution that is always given when discussing sick animals, because SOME causes of animal illness (E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, etc) can also make humans sick, but the precaution has nothing to do with EHD virus. Similarly, there is good reason to avoid biting insects to avoid diseases like West Nile virus, but you do not need to worry about contracting EHD virus from insect bites.

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