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'Horrible disease' spreads

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:45 AM

More than 6,500 cases have been reported statewide in 30 counties.

“This is the largest mortality we’ve had, and the numbers of counties we’ve had involved,” said Tom Cooley of the DNR. “Losing all of these deer is very unfortunate.”

Cooley said the last time the numbers of cases were close to being this high was several years ago when six counties were involved and more than 1,000 animals died. The outbreak was more localized back then, he said.

The Ottawa County Parks system is one of the places where wildlife experts say they’ve seen the disease.

“We’ve definitely had some reports from our volunteers and our visitors,” Ottawa County Natural Resources Supervisor Melanie Manion said.

However, she has yet to receive reports of diseased deer carcasses from parks staff.

“The reports we’ve gotten were at the Crockery Creek Recreation Area and the Grand River Ravines Recreation Area,” Manion said.

A virus that is transmitted by a type of biting fly causes the disease. A constant characteristic of the disease is its sudden onset.

"Since July, the DNR — in cooperation with many helpful volunteers — has been monitoring the EHD outbreak," said Brent Rudolph, the state agency's deer and elk program leader. "This is a horrible disease for hunters, DNR personnel and other wildlife enthusiasts to see affecting deer."

Rudolph said the first hard frost should kill the flies that are transmitting the disease. These bugs have thrived this year due to the dry, hot summer.

In addition to Michigan, Rudolph said the disease has been documented in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

If infected with the disease, a deer can suffer extensive internal bleeding, lose its appetite and be fearful of human contact. They are also known to grow weaker, salivate excessively and finally become unconscious.

Due to the high fever, infected deer often are found sick or dead alongside or in bodies of water. Manion noted that as being common in the cases being found at Ottawa County parks.

According to Cooley, hunters shouldn't be concerned about harvesting an EHD-infected deer, as the disease does not affect humans.

State natural resources experts say hunting season won’t be called off this year; however, hunters should anticipate seeing fewer deer this year in areas where the disease is prevalent.

Cooley said decisions for next year's hunting season will be made in the offseason.

Meanwhile, Ottawa County Parks officials say that they are letting nature take its course when it comes to how the dead deer are disposed. Manion said most of the dead deer are left undisturbed, with the exception of any that may be on public pathways.

“It is very sad and very unfortunate, but it is providing food for wildlife," she sa

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