EHD virus takes a chunk out of deer population in Siouxland - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

EHD virus takes a chunk out of deer population in Siouxland states

The number of EHD cases in deer this year was the highest ever documented. The number of EHD cases in deer this year was the highest ever documented.

Scott Pack is an avid outdoorsman.

"A lot of sportsmen run trail cameras and that's just to check on the deer population," said Pack.

He's a hunter and an observer.

"We like to watch deer for the most part when you are in a tree stand there is nothing better than watching deer more through," he said.

But this year, there's fewer deer to watch.  That's because a virus, called Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, or EHD, killed thousands of white-tailed deer in the tri-state.

"It's a death sentence," said Pack. "It's a walking death sentence."

That death sentence comes from this tiny midge.  When a midge infected with EHD bites the deer, the deer then becomes infected.

"What goes on with the vast majority of deer in Iowa, these cell walls begin to weaken due to being infected with the virus," said Tom Litchfield, a deer biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "They start leaking cell contents and then ultimately the animal can start hemorrhaging internally."

The sick animal will spike a high fever and become unresponsive.

You may even be able to go right up to it.

"An animal that is just about to die may be drooling," said Litchfield. "If you approach them, you can hear its breath, real bubbly and labored sounding, that's because the lungs are filling up with fluid."

And according to Litchfield, death comes quick, usually within one to four days.

While hunting this fall, Pack found dozens of dead and dying deer.

"It's sad to see a beautiful animal just laying there affected by this virus," said Pack.

The biting midges like hot, dry temperatures, so the summer's drought made for perfect conditions for an EHD outbreak.

"As the summer progressed, it was easy to see that we were setting up for an outbreak this year and that it could be bad and start earlier than usual," said Litchfield.

EHD isn't new to the area and it's often confused with another virus, Blue Tongue, which isn't active in Iowa. The last big outbreak of EHD in Iowa was in 1998, but this year it's worse.

Litchfield says this year's EHD was the highest ever documented. He estimates the virus may have wiped out up to 50 percent of the deer population in some areas.

While it's impossible to know exactly how many deer have died, just the numbers of reported animal deaths in Siouxland states are staggering.

In Iowa, the disease killed nearly 3,000 white-tailed deer, about 6,000 in Nebraska, and 3,500 in South Dakota. In South Dakota, many hunters voluntarily returned their tags for a refund.

"That just shows respect for the animal and that if EHD is going to take out this much of the population, then from a conservation standpoint, we don't we don't need to make it worse," said Pack.

Pack believes it's important to preserve the deer population for future generations.

"Sportsmen are big conservationists and it's up to us to make sure we pass this down to our kids and let them enjoy what we have enjoyed," he said.  "It is a renewable resource and awfully tasty one at that."

EHD doesn't affect humans, and if you eat deer meat infected with it, it won't hurt you. And now that we've had a hard frost, the threat for EHD has passed, just as quickly as it arrived.

Biologist will have a better idea of how many deer were lost this fall in about late winter or early spring.

Litchfield hopes all hunters will report any dead deer you find to your local DNR office. That will help DNR officials determine the deer population, and how many should be harvested next year.

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