IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) - A virus is killing deer in Michigan in much higher numbers than ever before -- and it may be due to the hot summer.
The virus is called epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD.
The disease is spread via insect bites and causes extensive internal hemorrhages, according to the Department of Natural Resources. White-tailed deer usually develop symptoms seven days after exposure. They experience loss of appetite, excessive salivation, rapid pulse and breathing, weakness, fever and eventually unconsciousness and death.
Between eight and 36 hours after symptoms start, the deer lay down and die, according to the DNR.
So far this year in southwest Michigan, 3,000 deer are estimated to have died; 1,500 of those were in Ionia County. Many of them have been found along bodies of water.
The disease has been known in Michigan since the 1950s and typically is most common between August and October, according to the DNR.
But this year, the cases began earlier and the numbers are higher than ever before. First reports of deer dead of EHD started coming during of July this year.
"The numbers are higher, the densities are higher, the geographic spread is wider," said John Niewoonder of the DNR. "It is most likely due to the hot dry summer that we had."
The expanded season has given the disease more time to spread.
The virus is spread by a species of a blood-drinking insects called the midge.
As waters receded this summer, they left big mud pools behind. The midges laid eggs in that mud. More mud led to more midges and therefore more disease.
The virus is fatal in deer about 25% of the time.
"They will either get it and recover very quickly or they will get it and die very quickly," said Niewoonder.
Those deer that do not die develop an immunity to the virus. The DNR says the virus does not pose a significant threat to the overall deer population.
The concentration of dead deer near water sources is because dying deer will often go toward water.
"Presumably because of high fever or high thirst," said Niewoonder. "They are bleeding internally and so they go to cool off and often die there near the water."
The challenge now for the DNR is to get an accurate count of how many deer have died. That is why officials are asking anyone who comes across a dead deer with no visible signs of injury near a body of water to contact the nearest DNR field office.
It appears that humans cannot contract EHD. It occasionally infects domesticated animals -- usually hoof stock, the DNR says -- but they rarely get sick.
To put the number of EHD deer deaths in perspective: There are an estimated 1.5 million white-tailed deer in Michigan; 55,000 deer are killed each year in vehicle crashes.
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