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Disease outbreak threatens Missouri deer

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 | 6:04 p.m. CDT; updated 5:38 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 19, 2012

COLUMBIA—White-tailed deer are under threat from an outbreak of a fatal disease transmitted by midge flies. 

Approximately 2,800 reported deer deaths across the state from mid-July and Monday are thought to be related to the disease, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. An additional 150 deaths had been reported since noon on Monday. 

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Conservation deer biologist Jason Sumners said it is difficult to fully understand the problem because only a small proportion of deaths caused by the disease are reported.

The disease isn't new, but Sumners believes the outbreak is one of the largest in Missouri. "This is as bad as we have ever experienced," he said.

Sumners said 75 of the reported deaths were scattered across Boone County.

The virus, hemorrhagic disease, is transmitted through midge fly bites. Disease outbreaks are especially severe during drought years because the deer and the midge flies congregate near the fewer available watering spots, Sumners said.

Sumners said some infected deer will recover from the disease but based on studies of past outbreaks the survival rate is a small proportion of the infected population.

Hemorrhagic disease is a general term that applies to epizootic hemorrhagic disease and bluetongue disease. Sumners said the virus takes five to seven days for the disease to establish itself and eight to 36 hours to become fatal. The disease causes fever, swollen neck, tongue and eyelids, reduced activity, excessive salivation and death.

The disease will continue to be transmitted to deer until the first frost kills off the midge flies, Sumners said.

While Sumners said locales especially hard hit by the disease could expect lower harvests this hunting season, the overall impact on hunting will not be known until after the season.

"It won't be until after the completion of firearms season and more people come out of the woods that we see the impact on the harvest," Sumners said.                  

The disease cannot be transmitted to humans and the handling or consumption of meat from deer that have recovered pose no health risks, according to a Department of Conservation news release. The release also said hemorrhagic disease is not related to chronic wasting disease.

Outbreaks of hemorrhagic disease are being reported in other states, and Sumners said the impact in Missouri is similar to Nebraska and parts of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.


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