Creature Control

Michigan Deer Dying from EHD

Michigan hunters may be disappointed this opening day due to the rapid spread of an infection known as epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD. While EHD has occurred sporadically in Michigan since 1955 and has returned every few years since then, this year’s outbreak of EHD is unprecedented in its scope and the amount of deer being wiped out. According to the Michigan DNR, 2,785 deer have died already this season, most of them in Ionia and Branch County. According to, some property owners have found up to 200 carcasses in a single stretch of land.

EHD is a viral disease that causes severe internal bleeding in the deer; or, as one reporter put it, “cooks the deer from the inside out.” The disease is fatal within days. Deer on the brink of death may stumble around aimlessly and lose their fear of humans, not unlike distempered raccoons. The deer will typically be found dead in the immediate vicinity of a stream or body of water, as they become thirsty when they approach the throes of death.

While there have been cases in only 20 of Michigan’s 83 counties (and while the vast majority of these are in Ionia, Calhoun and Branch Counties), the worry is that the epidemic will spread throughout the State and devastate our deer population. If the disease continues at the current intensity into all of our counties, the the $1.7 billion hunting industry in the state could be terribly impacted, leading to a loss of up to $153 million in tax revenue from hunting licenses, permits, etc.

In Kent County, for example, 40 cases were reported in week six of the DNR’s study but this jumped to more than 360 reported in week seven. While it is not time to panic yet, the disease does appear to be spreading. It has also showed up in other states as well.

Of course this may just be your typical “there’s some killer disease that is going to destroy everything” alarmism. Last year the huge fear was that a disease called White Nosed Syndrome would wipe out the state’s bat population, and this obviously did not happen. We will have to wait and see how the season unfolds.

The disease is spread from deer to deer by the bites of midges, commonly known as gnats or “noseeums.” As of now, there is no indication that this disease can affect humans, nor is there any problem with eating meat of infected deer. However, because it is hard to tell without testing what actually killed a deer, the DNR cautions people against eating meat from deer found dead, especially if found near bodies of water with no apparent wounds.

Why the sudden outbreak of EHD? Most officials blame the drought this summer. The drought conditions may have led to a proliferation of small, muddy holes that serve as breeding grounds for midge flies. Thus, while the dry summer might have given us some relief from mosquitoes (who thrive in wet areas), the drying up of ponds and streams caused a proliferation of midges, who are spreading the disease.

If this winter is cold and the chill sets in early, the disease will most likely subside as the cold temperatures kill the midges. But, if we get another mild winter like last year, the midges will survive longer and continue to spread the pestilence. Although we may have really enjoyed the mild winter, the fact is we could desperately use a good, long freeze this time around.