Every few years in the southeastern United States, there’s an outbreak of a deadly deer disease called epizootic hemorrhagic disease. This year, the outbreak has been particularly severe—the disease killed an estimated 3,000 deer in Kentucky during August and September.
Hunters and those who just enjoy watching deer are understandably concerned. However, here’s some good news: the number of deceased deer is small when compared to the nearly one million animals in Kentucky’s herd. Although the disease spread across the state this fall, it has not had a significant impact on Kentucky’s overall deer herd. Hunting seasons and zones will not change this year due to the disease outbreak.
A virus causes this disease. The virus is transmitted when an infected gnat bites a healthy deer. This year’s outbreak is the worst in several decades because of the drought, as the lack of water is concentrating both healthy and infected deer at places where the animals come to drink.
In the most severe cases, an infected deer can die within days.
Many people have called the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources asking whether people can get this disease and if it’s still safe to hunt deer. Fortunately, the disease is not infectious to humans and cannot be spread from the carcass of a deer. That means an infected deer that appeared healthy before being taken by a hunter is safe to eat.
Hunters should use some common sense in making this decision. Deer that appear weak or sickly should not be taken. Deer should not be consumed if hunters notice abscesses or obvious physical problems when field dressing the animal. This is a good rule to follow even during years when there are no outbreaks.
Hemorrhagic disease outbreaks usually stop once the hard freezes start, because the cold temperatures kill off the gnats that carry the disease.
Since Kentucky has such a large deer population and the disease outbreak has not had a major impact on the overall herd, hunters can still take does this season without worrying about the population declining too far.
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