Every year, many people anxiously look forward to the colder months when deer are in season to be hunted. In Virginia, white tailed deer, or Odocoileus virginianus, are a popular favorite, not only for food, but even more for sport. An indigenous species to Virginia, American Indians heavily relied on them for meat, sinews, and hides. Now, this particular species of deer may be in danger due to a disease that spreads each year.
Hemorrhagic disease, or HD, is spread each year from late July to early November, not through direct contact, but by a vector in the genus Culicoides. These vectors, commonly known as biting flies, are called
“biting midges.” This is a reason the disease may suddenly stop spreading when the cold moves in because the cold climate does not allow them to survive; however, it is still unknown how HD has been able stay persistent throughout winter in some instances.
According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Hemorrhagic Disease can be detected through a variety of symptoms such as depression, fever, swelling in the head, neck, tongue, or eyelids, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms, however, only appear alone in one of the three “forms” of this disease: peracute, acute, and chronic. When a deer is affected with a highly virulent strain, usually the peracute form, the symptoms are likely to develop, and death can occur within one to three days. In the acute stage, the deer may develop these symptoms, as well as other difficulties: edema in these locations, hemorrhages, ulcerations or erosions on the tongue, dental pad, one of the four stomachs, or congestion in the intestines, pulmonary artery, abomasum, or rumen. The chronic form, commonly known as Hoof Disease, develops in deer that do end up surviving HD. The fever that happens during HD causes peeling of the hoof wall in the deer and growth interruptions on the hooves.
In Virginia, HD is common within the Piedmont and Tidewater regions, but is relatively more common in the Tidewater region than the Piedmont. This disease does affect other areas of the United States, though, as it is widespread throughout all of the Southwest. The reason that Hemorrhagic Disease is such a problem to hunters in this area is how it affects the deer population. As the limit on game changes from season to season, a particular season in an area with a severe outbreak will result in an extremely low limit on the amount of game allowed to be killed. Often when this limit is placed on the white deer to keep a stable population, and although the virus itself may not affect humans, the deer affected may develop abscesses or bacterial infections that are not suitable for consumption. Many hunters eat the deer they kill, so this affects their hunting.
Sometimes, deer, sheep, and cattle can all suffer from HD and similar diseases. This has the potential to threaten an outbreak and in some cases is extremely severe, but usually the viruses subside before a full on outbreak can occur. For white tailed deer, HD accounts for the losses for fewer than 25% of the population. HD is not considered a limiting factor; however it still poses a risk to white tailed deer everywhere. This problem may persist for many years unless further research is done.