Wildlife officials confirm hemorrhagic disease outbreak in Virginia deer

Courtesy: USDA / MGN
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Wildlife officials in Virginia have confirmed the presence of a viral disease causing deaths in deer across the commonwealth.

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), they've received 87 reports of hemorrhagic disease (HD) in 38 counties, involving 180 deer.

Hemorrhagic disease is a common infectious disease of white-tailed deer, and outbreaks regularly occur in the Southeast. It's most common east of the Blue Ridge and relatively uncommon west of the mountains.

This year, the VDGIF says the worst hit area has been around Bedford and Franklin counties.

Outbreaks of hemorrhagic disease are characterized by otherwise healthy looking deer being found dead or dying near or in the water in late summer and early fall.

There's no vaccine or medication to fight the disease, but the best predictor of it is drought, which has affected wide swaths of our area this fall.

The disease poses no threat to humans or domestic pets like dogs and cats. Unlike some other viral deer diseases, hunters also aren't at risk from handling or eating venison from infected deer.

It's transmitted by biting flies, commonly known as biting gnats, and the outbreak usually goes on until the first frost kills the insects off.

Not all infected deer will die, but survivors may develop hoof lesions/pain and are more susceptible to pneumonia.

"While it is impossible to determine the number of deer affected by the current outbreaks, some decrease in deer numbers in the affected areas may be expected," the VDGIF said in a statement. "Deer that act or look obviously sick, either as a result of HD or another infectious disease, should not be consumed."

The department maintains records of mortality from the disease documenting locations and the approximate number of deer involved. Department staff will monitor the situation but won't generally make an on-site visit to a report of the disease unless there are extenuating circumstances.

If you've seen sick or dead deer in your area and suspect hemorrhagic disease, you should not attempt to contact, disturb, kill, or remove the animal. Instead, report the approximate location to the department office closest to you:

Blacksburg (540) 961-8304
Farmville (434) 392-9645
Fredericksburg (540) 899-4169
Lynchburg (434) 525-7522
Marion (276) 783-4860
Verona (540) 248-9360
Charles City (804) 829-6580

There's nothing officials can do to prevent or control the disease.

"Although die-offs of deer due to HD often cause alarm, past experiences have shown that mortality will not totally decimate local deer populations and the outbreak will be curtailed by the onset of cold weather," the department said.

For more information, visit the VDGIF website.