GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The number of Michigan deer dead of a virus continues to rise.
More than 11,000 deer that have been reported dead of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The disease causes extensive internal hemorrhages, according to the DNR. White-tailed deer usually develop symptoms seven days after exposure. Between eight and 36 hours after the start of symptoms like rapid pulse and breathing, fever and weakness, the deer lie down and die.
EHD is spread by a gnat called the midge -- a species that multiplied well in this summer's drought. It has been know to exist in Michigan for years, but this year's outbreak is the worst in history.
"It is way worse than any other outbreak. We have had a few that got over 1,000 or maybe over a thousand a few years back, but this is by far the worst we have seen it," said DNR Wildlife Biologist John Niewoonder.
The hardest-hit areas are in southwest Michigan, a DNR map shows. Ionia County has also seen a big outbreak. There have been 2,244 reported cases there. Kent County has had 1,637 reported cases.
The DNR says that the number of deer dead of EHD is actually much higher than the 11,000 or so reported, but admits that there is no telling exactly how many deer have died.
The DNR had hoped that by October, the numbers would be on the decrease because a hard freeze should kill off the midges.
Hunters should still feel free to hunt, the DNR says, and the agency will not put any limitations on deer hunting this year. But after this season concludes, the DNR will consider numbers gathered from deer check stations as they decide how many permits to issue next year.
"Typically these re-evaluations don't result in big changes because the population just doesn't change that much from one year to the next. This year may be different because of the disease. Hunters may notice bigger changes for next year than they normally would," said Niewoonder.
It is important to put the number of dead deer in perspective. While there are more than 11,000 deer dead from EHD, hunters harvested more than 440,000 last year and an average of more than 50,000 die every year in car crashes.
The DNR says it does not anticipate that Michigan's deer herd is in danger.
Humans cannot contract EHD. It occasionally infects domesticated animals -- usually hoof stock, the DNR says -- but they rarely get sick.
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