OCONTO COUNTY, Wis. (WFRV) – A deer in Oconto County has tested positive for a virus that can cause a potentially fatal disease.

The Wisconsin DNR says state wildlife officials confirmed that a tissue sample collected from a deer tested positive for the virus that causes epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD.

According to the DNR, the observation comes after an Oconto County landowner found discovered seven dead deer on a 40-acre property north of Oconto Falls. Two additional dead deer were found and reported to the DNR from a neighboring property.

The virus that causes EHD can be carried by midges, which are small flies also known as biting gnats or no-see-ums, according to the DNR. The EHD does not infect humans and people are not at risk of developing disease from the virus even if they handle infected deer, eat venison from infected deer, or are bitten by infected midges.

The DNR says EHD is common across the southern and western US and occasionally showing up in the midwest. It can be fatal to deer, especially in populations that have limited previous exposure to the virus, such as in Wisconsin. The disease is usually short-lived because the flies that transmit the disease to die with the first hard frost.

When deer die of EHD, they typically expire within seven days of infection.

The DNR reports EHD virus has previously been identified in Wisconsin, often with varying localized impacts on deer.

In the fall of 2019, an EHD outbreak in Crawford and six surrounding counties affected about 300 deer. A single case was confirmed in 2017 and in 2012, an EHD outbreak was suspected of killing about 380 deer in Dane and Columbia counties.

“We are fortunate that the public is tuned into the herd’s health and was quick to report these mortalities,” said Jeff Pritzl, the DNR’s wildlife management supervisor for its northeast district. “We ask that the public continues reporting observations of sick or dead deer. These observations help us evaluate the potential geographic distribution and number of deer affected by this disease.”

Clinical signs of EHD in deer include:

  • Excessive salivation or foaming around the nose and mouth;
  • Appearing weak and approachable by humans; and
  • Carcasses found in or near water sources, as infected deer will often lay in water to cool down or drink.

The DNR says they will not be collecting or removing deer that are suspected to have died from EHD. Carcasses from deer that die of EHD are not a threat to spreading the disease to other deer, as the virus does not survive for long once an infected deer dies. The DNR advises against handling any found deer carcasses as other pathogens harmful to humans could be present.

To report a first-hand observation of sick or dead deer, contact your county wildlife biologist. If EHD is suspected, fresh samples will need to be collected within a day or two of death to be useful for detecting the virus. Please be prepared to provide details about the condition of the deer, the exact location where the deer was observed and the condition of the carcass(es). Learn more about EHD on the DNR’s website.

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