Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease kills deer in Jersey

Virus Killing Some Deer in New Jersey

State wildlife officials are tracking a virus, carried by tiny biting insects, that is killing white-tailed deer in parts of New Jersey.

Signs of the virus, called epizootic hemorrhagic disease, have been found in the carcasses of nearly 200 deer in New Jersey, state officials said. The virus can kill an animal in 5 to 10 days.

The disease is not expected to significantly reduce the state’s deer population. According to the Department of Environmental Protection, there are about 150,000 wild deer in the state.

Carried by midges that hatch on mud flats, the virus causes high fevers and bleeding from the mouth, nose and eyes. The carcasses of deer that die of the disease are often found near water, where they have gone to drink. Outbreaks of the virus have also been confirmed this year in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, according to the department.

Larry Herrighty, assistant director of the department’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, said that so far, the virus has not spread to livestock in the state. It is not fatal to cows, but can reduce their milk production. The virus spreads mostly in the warmer months and is contained after the first frost, which kills the midges, wildlife officials said.

A hunter in Somerset County found the first evidence of the disease in New Jersey about six weeks ago, discovering 15 dead deer on property belonging to a hunting club.

Mr. Herrighty said that about 65 deer had died in Hillsborough Township in Somerset County, and 104 in or around Wharton State Forest in Burlington County.

“It’s a relatively small number compared to prior outbreaks,” he said.

About 4,000 deer statewide died of the disease in 1999, and about 1,000 in Morris County in the mid 1970s, he said.

Suspected incidences of the disease have also been found this year in parts of Morris, Middlesex, Camden, Cumberland and Salem Counties. The disease has not been shown to spread to humans, but hunters are advised not to eat the meat of deer that appear sick, wildlife officials said.

Ed Markowski, president of the New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said he had heard about outbreaks of the disease in the upper regions of the Mullica River, and near Hammonton in Atlantic County, Tuckahoe in Cape May County, and Lake Atsion in Burlington County.

“Locally it can decimate a population, but over all New Jersey’s deer herd is healthy enough,” he said. Hunters observing deer acting abnormally are asked to report their findings to Dr. Douglas Roscoe, at the Fish and Wildlife Division, by calling (908) 735-6398.



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