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Disease carried by insects is killing deer in Kansas

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011, at 12:09 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011, at 1:19 p.m.

A deadly disease spread by tiny insects is taking a toll on Kansas' deer population in some areas.

"We had a guy in (Monday) who'd found 13 dead deer in two sections," said Lloyd Fox, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism big game program coordinator. "We've had them found from about all over the eastern one-third of the state."

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease has been documented as far west as Butler and McPherson counties in recent months.

Joshua Whitehill, of Latham, said he's seen four deer thought to have died from the disease in southeast Butler County since Friday.

Three were trophy-sized bucks he'd often photographed with remote trail cameras.

" (EHD) is definitely going to have an effect on those who hunt mature bucks this year," he said.

EHD is most common in years of extended drought when large numbers of deer are forced to drink water from shallow, stagnant pools or in creeks and ponds. Such waters are perfect breeding grounds for midges, tiny insects that pass infected blood from one deer to another.

"Those sites are almost as good as a high school for spreading a disease or illness," Fox said.

The disease cannot be passed to humans or pets. Cattle can get EHD but it's rarely fatal to them. Sheep can be vulnerable to EHD.

Fox said Kansas probably has cases of EHD every summer but some years are worse than others. The worst year was about 1990 in north-central Kansas. A few years later the disease is believed to have killed a high percentage of the pronghorn antelope population in the Flint Hills.

Years of mild outbreaks can help deer develop immunities to the disease. In western Kansas, where water is often hard to find, deer genetically have developed immunities to the disease.

In past years places in the Dakotas and Wyoming have lost about 50 percent of their deer herd to EHD outbreaks. Fox estimates some localized areas in northern and eastern Kansas may lose 25 to 30 percent of the deer herd this year. Recently the disease has spread to New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and other states where it's never been found before.

Many places in Kansas are losing only a few animals.

"In some areas (in other states) they find more than 100 deer. Most of our employees haven't found more than two or three together," Fox said. One game warden found five dead deer together in Greenwood County.

Deer with EHD often have lesions on their tongue and may stand around with their tongue hanging out. Hooves often fall off the animals, and they eventually head to water because of high fever.

Most EHD mortalities are found in or within a few yards of water. Many are found by landowners and early-season deer hunters.

Fox said the best medicine for the ongoing outbreak is temperatures cold enough to kill insects. "Knock out the midges, the disease stops," Fox said. "A good rain can slow the disease dramatically because you have water everywhere and deer are spread out."

Reach Michael Pearce at 316-268-6382 or mpearce@wichitaeagle.com.

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