Variation of deer virus locally isolated

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has isolated a variation of hemorrhagic disease in deer to Shenandoah County.

Nelson Lafon, deer project coordinator for the department, said the   isolated variation, or serotype, in question is known as blue tongue disease and is viral. It is transmitted via biting midges.

Lafon said that while hemorrhagic disease isn’t unheard of in the western parts of the state, it’s much more common in Virginia’s eastern regions.

“For all practical purposes, what we have this year is a hemorrhagic disease outbreak,” Lafon said. “This is much more frequent in Eastern Virginia. When you get over the mountains, it’s much more frequent and often causes a higher mortality rate. The deer are less immune to the disease and encounter it less often.”

He noted how the disease affects deer.

“It’s a virus, it’s fast acting. There are several versions of it. There’s an acute version of the disease and there’s a chronic version. An animal could be exposed to the disease and develop ulcers to the point where it succumbs to it and dies.”

Reports of this disease in deer typically come from landowners or hunters who often find carcasses near bodies of water. Lafon said that the virus overheats the deer, causing it to seek out water, where it often dies.

Sometimes the disease can affect the deer’s hooves, and some refer to the virus as cracked hoof disease. The department keeps track of hunt clubs that report kills of deer that exhibit the cracked hooves and map those results as a way of determining location of the disease.

Lafon assured that blue tongue poses no threats to humans and virtually none to livestock. Moreover, it is not passed from deer to deer.  A midge bites and infects a deer and then the midge bites another deer.

Lafon said that hemorrhagic disease is unpredictable and has only occurred a handful of times in the last decade, but the late summer is when it usually manifests.

“This is the prime time for hemorrhagic disease,” Lafon said. “Any time from late July to early August all the way to the times when you first start having frost. … There’s really no periodic interval. In the last decade, we’ve probably had it three to four times in Shenandoah County and the western part of the state.”

Lafon noted that there may a correlation between climate change and the virus’ distribution, saying that recently instances of the disease have arisen in New York, where hemorrhagic disease previously hadn’t been observed.

While the disease may seem ominous, Lafon assured that it’s a native disease and that there’s very little in terms of management that can be done to mitigate or prevent outbreaks.

” There’s really no management actions that can be taken to prevent the spread of this disease,” He said. “Really, what you can do is monitor it and explain it.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com