File photo: Katharine Schroeder

A fatal animal virus that killed an estimated 1,500 white-tailed deer in the Lower Hudson Valley last fall has been confirmed in Suffolk, Nassau and five other counties in New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation announced in a press release today. There are also suspected in cases in nine other counties, the agency said.

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease virus is transmitted by biting midges, small insects commonly known as “no-see-ums.”

The virus is not transmissible to humans, the DEC said.

EHD outbreaks are most common in the late summer and early fall when midges are abundant, although initial cases this year were detected in late July, the DEC said. It has therefore had time to circulate and spread before the first killing frost, the agency said, and has been more prevalent this year than in past years.

DEC is tracking suspected cases in Albany, Jefferson, Oneida, Orange, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Sullivan, and Westchester counties and new reports of dead deer to track the spread and estimate the number of deer succumbing to this disease. To date, DEC has received reports of approximately 700 dead deer.

According to the DEC, signs of the EHD virus include fever, hemorrhage in muscles or organs, and swelling of the head, neck, tongue, and lips. A deer infected with EHD may appear lame or dehydrated. Frequently, infected deer will seek out water sources and many succumb near a water source. There is no treatment or means to prevent EHD. Once infected with EHD virus, deer usually die within 36 hours, according to the press release.

Dead deer do not serve as a source of infection for other animals.

“EHD outbreaks do not have a significant long-term impact on regional deer populations, but deer mortality can be significant in small geographic areas,” the DEC said in the release.

“EHD is endemic in the southern states, which report annual outbreaks, so some southern deer have developed immunity. In the northeast, EHD outbreaks occur sporadically and deer in New York have no immunity to this virus. Consequently, most EHD-infected deer in New York are expected to die. The first hard frost is expected to kill the midges that transmit the disease, ending the EHD outbreak,” the DEC said.

“EHD virus was first confirmed in New York deer in 2007, with relatively small outbreaks in Albany, Rensselaer, and Niagara counties, and in Rockland County in 2011. From early September to late October 2020, a large EHD outbreak occurred in the lower Hudson Valley, centered in Putnam and Orange counties,” the press release said.

There is no treatment for the disease in wildlife populations and no wildlife prevention plan currently exists, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Sightings of sick or dead deer suspected of having EHD can be reported to DEC via a new online EHD reporting form, also available via DEC’s website or by contacting the nearest DEC Regional Wildlife Office. DEC will continue to collect samples from deer and analyze data from deer reports to determine the extent of the outbreak. In addition, DEC has alerted Department of Agriculture and Markets veterinarians in the region to be aware of the disease and to report suspicious cases among captive deer.

For more information, visit DEC’s EHD webpage or Cornell University’s Wildlife Health Lab website.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.