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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Deer face deadly disease
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A buck stands in a backyard in Martinsville recently. A disease that is unusual in this part of the state has killed dozens of deer in this area. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, September 21, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Reporter

A disease that is unusual in this part of the state has killed dozens of deer in this area.

That’s according to Matt Knox, deer project coordinator for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF).

He added that hemorrhagic disease (HD) occurs on a localized basis, and he does not think it will have a significant impact on the overall deer population in this area.

“I know of at least 50 deer reported dead on two properties” in this area, Knox stated in an email.

One of the properties is near the Henry County-Franklin County line, and the other property is in western Patrick County, he said in an interview.

Dr. Megan S. Kirchgessner, wildlife veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, wrote in an email, “I have six separate reports from Patrick and Henry counties and the total dead deer from all six reports equals 35.”

A brochure Knox provided states that the viruses that cause HD do not infect humans, and people are not at risk by handling infected deer, eating venison from infected deer or being bitten by infected flies. Deer that develop bacterial infections or abscesses secondary to HD may not be suitable for consumption.

According to information on the Virginia DGIF website, HD is the most important infectious disease of white-tailed deer in the southeastern United States and in Virginia, and outbreaks occur almost every year.

HD is common and occurs at some level annually in both the Tidewater and the Piedmont physiographic regions, but it is more common in Tidewater than in the Piedmont. (Physiography is defined as physical geography.) In the Piedmont, Southside and the central Piedmont areas tend to show more consistent HD activity.

Knox said 2007 was the last year HD was found in this area.

It is a viral disease transmitted by gnats, he said. It can cause deer to have a tremendous fever. Deer that died or are dying from HD typically are found by creeks because they lie down by water on cool, moist soil, according to Knox and the DGIF website.

According to the website and a brochure Knox provided, outward signs in live deer depend partly on the potency of the virus and duration of infection. Many affected deer appear normal or show only mild signs of illness.

When illness occurs, the signs change as the disease progresses. Initially, animals may be depressed; feverish; have a swollen head, neck, tongue or eyelids; or have difficulty breathing. With highly potent strains of the virus, deer may die within one to three days.

More often, deer survive longer and may become lame, lose their appetite or reduce their activity.

Knox estimated that for every dead deer that is found, there probably is another that is not found.

“The first frost will kill the little gnats, and (the HD outbreak) will go away,” he said.

Knox said he believes the HD outbreak may be related to the mild winter, he said.

People who find deer dead or dying near water “are welcome to give us call,” said Knox, who can be reached at (434) 525-7522. He said DGIF can’t do anything about HD, but it is trying to keep statistics.

Among the other areas Knox has received reports of HD in deer is the Sandy Level area in Pittsylvania County, he said.


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