Archived Outdoors

Disease outbreak kills N.C. deer

An outbreak of hemorrhagic disease has spurred reports of sick and dead deer in 39 North Carolina counties, with the highest frequency of reports coming from the mountain and piedmont regions. 

Hemorrhagic disease is common among southeastern deer populations, causing sporadic outbreaks every few years and resulting in dead deer found near water during the late summer, said N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission deer biologist Moriah Boggess. The term “hemorrhagic disease” collectively refers to the bluetongue and epizootic hemorrhagic disease viruses, both of which cause similar symptoms. 

While hemorrhagic disease kills deer, it does not permanently affect population viability, as chronic wasting disease does. Southern deer are adapted to hemorrhagic disease, and in even the worst outbreaks some deer survive and pass on their immunity to their offspring, with deer populations typically rebounding within a few years. Meanwhile, CWD is incurable and always fatal to deer that contract it. 

“While it may seem like hemorrhagic disease kills more deer in the short term, the future implications of CWD are much grimmer, because CWD permanently affects population viability and infection rates steadily climb each year,” said Boggess.

Tissues submitted to labs for testing have confirmed both kinds of hemorrhagic disease viruses, with numerous samples pending results. Samples have also been submitted for CWD testing and are awaiting results. 

Once a hemorrhagic disease outbreak begins, it usually continues until weather conditions kill the biting midges responsible for spreading it — usually the first frost of fall. Some deer harvested this year might have rings in their hooves or scars on their dental palate, signs the deer was infected but recovered. Hemorrhagic disease is not transmissible to people either through the biting midge or through consumption of venison.

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