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Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, Deer and Our Dinner Tables – Is There Cause for Concern?

With reports of EHD killing deer in Michigan, many are wondering if they will be safe for consumption this deer season.

Many of us have the luxury of enjoying wild game on our dinner tables during the fall and winter seasons. With recent reports of deer dying because of a disease, many may be concerned as Michigan looks to the opening of deer season. The disease, Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), is caused by a Culicoides biting fly or midge. Read more about EHD here: “Michigan is experiencing outbreaks of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in deer.”

EHD has had slight impact on the deer population for many years. However, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), due to “the prolonged, dry, hot weather this year, we are not surprised to see EHD emerge again." EHD is prevalent in the months of August through October. The deer population should be safe from the midge fly after the onset of frost.

Michigan DNR and Michigan State University Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health recently confirmed affected wild White-tailed deer in the following counties:

  • Allegan
  • Barry
  • Berrien
  • Branch
  • Calhoun
  • Cass
  • Clinton
  • Eaton
  • Gratiot
  • Ionia
  • Jackson
  • Kent
  • Montcalm
  • Muskegon
  • Ottawa
  • Shiawassee
  • St. Joseph

With the Early Antlerless Deer Season already passed, some may be concerned about coming into contact with an EHD-infected deer because we have not had a frost yet. Caution should be used when in contact with any visibly sick animal. The DNR reports that a deer will develop signs of EHD about 7 days after being bitten by the midge. Symptoms of EHD include loss of appetite, excessive salivation, fever (“affected animals frequent bodies of water to lie in to reduce their body temperature”) and unconsciousness. A deer will die within 8 to 36 hours of the onset of symptoms.

The DNR reports, that “in all probability the virus does not infect humans.” Any animal in a poor, sick condition, regardless of cause, may be unfit for consumption. The DNR states that “there is no evidence that humans can contract the EHD virus either from the midge or from handling and eating venison.” To avoid any unassay health risk, be sure to cook meat thoroughly. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

For more 2012 information on specific county deer populations, see the DNR’s EHD - Outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease in Deer. Contact the DNR to report possible cases of EHD.

(This article was written by Sarah Sleziak Johnson, Michigan State University Extension)

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