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Confirmed cases of fatal disease in LI deer spread through midges, DEC says

Midges are spreading a fatal disease to deer

Midges are spreading a fatal disease to deer around the state. Credit: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

Nassau and Suffolk counties have confirmed cases of a deer-killing hemorrhagic disease that may keep spreading until autumn frosts kill the tiny insects carrying it, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said Thursday.

The illness, known as epizootic hemorrhagic disease and widespread in much of the Southeast, is solely spread by insects called midges, also called no-see-ums or 'punkies,' the DEC statement said.

Deer, which typically die from the disease within 36 hours, cannot infect each other; nor do the midges spread it to humans.

This virus is confined to hoofed animals, scientists say. A similar disease, bluetongue virus, can, however, can infect dogs; the severity of any such infection may vary.

"DEC has not seen anything indicating dogs or other domestic pets are at risk from EHD," spokesman Jomo Mikler said by email.

This year, the disease struck earlier than usual — in late July, instead of the late summer to early autumn period, when the midges are plentiful. In 2020, the DEC estimated the disease killed about 1,500 deer from early Sept. to late Oct. in the lower Hudson Valley.

So far, the DEC has received reports of a total of 700 dead deer. There is no known treatment though some deer in the Southeast have developed immunity.

"Epizootic hemorrhagic disease 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.

First confirmed in this state in 2007, it also has been found this summer in Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Oswego and Ulster counties; suspected cases have arisen in Albany, Jefferson, Oneida, Orange, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Sullivan, and Westchester.

In 2011, Albany, Rensselaer, Niagara counties had "relatively small outbreaks."

Local veterinarians have been alerted and anyone who spots a sick or dead deer that might have been infected should report it to the DEC via a new online EHD reporting form (available at https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/123773.html) or by contacting the nearest DEC Regional Wildlife Office.

For more information, visit DEC’s EHD webpage at https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/123773.html or Cornell University’s Wildlife Health Lab website at https://cwhl.vet.cornell.edu/disease/epizootic-hemorrhagic-disease.

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