Midge fly infecting Michigan deer with deadly virus

Photo: Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

A virus has killed more than 900 white-tailed deer across eight Michigan counties this summer, 600 more than last summer.

State biologists struggle to explain the increase, but believe it could be related to warmer, drier weather.

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease, more commonly known as EHD, is a viral disease that causes severe, and often deadly symptoms in deer and related animals, said Brent Rudolph, deer and elk program leader at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A midge, or type of small biting fly, infects deer through its bite, Rudolph said. People can’t contract the disease, and it cannot be transmitted from deer to deer, said Tom Cooley, wildlife biologist and pathologist at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The virus generally begins to spread in late August when midges are most prevalent and stops when the first frost wipes most of them out, Cooley said.

“The virus has to survive the winter in some capacity, but it’s difficult to figure out how,” he said.

The summer’s extreme heat and drought, prime conditions for midges, are likely why sightings of infected deer came four to five weeks early this year, Cooley said.


View Michigan counties with EHD infected deer in a larger map

The counties in Michigan with infected deer include: Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Clinton, Eaton, Ionia and Montcalm counties. That’s a significant geographic spread, as only Cass and St. Joseph counties were affected in 2010.

The location of EHD outbreaks tends to change every year, Cooley said.

“We see this as something that doesn’t cause a dramatic long-term impact on the deer population, but in these localized areas it will be quite noticeable for folks,” Rudolph said.

Other Great Lakes states have lower instances of EHD, although it can vary year to year. Only two EHD related deaths have been confirmed so far this year in Ohio – both in Geauga County, said Mike Tonkovich, wildlife research biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. There have been a handful of unconfirmed reports in four other Ohio counties as well, he said.

Indiana has also experienced a few outbreaks this summer.

Photo: Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

It takes about a week from the time of infection for the deer to show symptoms. Those include loss of appetite, greater fear of man, mouth ulcers, progressive weakness, excessive salivation, hemorrhages and fever, Rudolph said.

Death usually occurs about two weeks after contamination, Cooley said.

It is common to find dead or infected deer in or near water, said Rudolph. This is likely because the sick deer seek water to remedy feverish symptoms.

“No matter who you are, if you show up to a pond or river and see a bunch of dead deer in the water, it’s very alarming,” Rudolph said.

There is no way to cure or manage the disease. Biologists hope that it will fade as deer develop immunity, Rudolph said. The best thing to do if confronted with a sick or dead deer is to report it to your state Department of Natural Resources.

For more information about previous outbreaks in Michigan, click here.

About Jennifer Kalish

Jenny is a contributor to Revue Mid-Michigan magazine and an environmental reporter for Great Lakes Echo. In her spare time she likes to go camping, play guitar and hike with her black lab, Arlo. She is passionate about music, writing, photography, traveling and the environment.

  • Dakoda

    If u kill a deer and it has that viruse do u have to tag it.

  • whitetail

    Sitting in my tree stand looking for lethargic, thirsty, and brazen doe. Yes I said tree stand not the local bar.

  • mark

    Where are the photos of “40 dead deer “? I amused by the panicky folks who distrust the DNR but believe anything an anonymous poster says.

  • Swan

    I went to a meeting at my school and received information from the DNR biologist, he said you can eat the meat, and even he said he wouldn’t want to. So he knows what he’s doing, and the deer cannot spread it to each other and won’t be killing each other off. They do appear to lose their fear of humans, considering I had one walk five yards away while I was on the phone.

  • Paul

    Danny, how do you make the leap from deer killed by EHD to Democrat DNR personnel? I am a retired MI DNR employee, and I dare say that the majority of DNR personnel I knew were conservative in their views. Myself, I was fiercely Independent. Furthermore, if it were not for the generations of natural resources personnel, their studies and resource management, laws and enforcement, likely you would have very little to stock your larder.

  • Danny

    It is looking bad for the deer this year, DNR is playing it down and should close the hunting in the highly affected counties. Reading all of the posts here on this site confirms my initial thought of forgetting about deer hunting in Michigan while I visit family and friends on my annual visit home from Alaska.
    Now that the official death toll is at 10400 you can assuredly double the head count taking into consideration of all the hard to access swamp land and terrain that people wont frequently adventure into; its a shame the Departments Area Biologists and staff value the “Buck” more than the natural reasource they vowed to protect. They’re probably Democarats.
    The comments of preaditors and scavagers not cleaning up the mess leads to some good points of consideration. If a Turkey Vulture wont eat it, certainly you should not eat it. I can see our next eppidemic comming and again our state department is not providing any conclusive evidence, or posting proven test results; “It wont hurt you” or is it “We think it wont hurt you”. We have the opportunity to vote out the dead wood career poloticians who appoint state department officials who are responsible for decisive action in all the states welfare and issues. Sorry, I tangented off to Preaditors and Scavengers again.
    I am happy to have moose meat and slamon in the freezer as its looking like there will be no venison for me this year. I hope that all hunters will be proactive in preserving deer populations this season; dont bother purchasing a deer hunting tag this year, because you can just go into the woods and pick one up “It Wont Hurt You”. Happy Scavenging.

  • Damndan16503

    Here in Pa. @ Erie, Crawford County , we have been seeing lots of this Midge thing. Some areas @ pymatuning are even closing the season…..Come on Sportsman what are we waiting for? If this keeps up there may not be Whitetail Deer….Just saying……

  • Gertie

    Can the fly harm domestic animals such as dogs? Worried about pets.What other animals DOES it affect?

  • Anonymous

    15- 20 dear found by Ashton MI dead.. around lakes and river.. It’s spreading north.. Yeah.. Where did the midge get this disease is it something being brought into the state from other sources??? The midge has to be acquiring this disease from something.. I know Ill has a big outbreak.. Could these midges becoming in on storms and wind??

  • Scoop

    Meant to add, hunters will have the final say as they always do on just how many deer they want to remove from a particular area. Folks who can’t control trigger fingers in years with few deer on a parcel are to blame, not the DNR for closing the season. The cover in Michigan is way too diverse to just have a blanket statement saying we have to close the season in XX county(ies). Again, if local hunters aren’t seeing much, they should not be pulling the trigger. Remember, some of these areas had too many deer to begin with (not in the eyes of hunters, but for the health of the landscape, and herd). Am not trying to diminish the disease or its impact, and if any particular area/county was hit extremely hard, I do agree DNR could/should (in advance of the gun season) refund any license already purchased. Me, I’d still hunt under such a case but hold out for a trophy buck only, and let everything else walk. Bucks during the rut can move 5 miles or more in search of receptive does, so you never know what might show up in your hunt area Nov. 15.

  • Scoop

    Michigan’s latest estimate of dead deer is closing in on 9,000 animals in 30 counties, still a drop in the bucket on a statewide basis but definitely can and will have a local impact in some areas.

    EHD can affect cattle: http://www.bovinevetonline.com/news/industry/EHD-can-be-a-threat-to-cattle-173490111.html?ref=111

  • brianna

    Okay so if it could make you sick if severely infected with this, how would you know besides symptoms? Is there any note of maybe the meat changed colors, smells or anything along those lines. I know it is not very harmful but im sure if its killing deer its not going to be the healtyist thing to digest!!!

  • Bob

    I live on the ionia montcalm county line. Yesterday i went for a walk on our 80 acre land and found four deer dead. And i wonder also, how can this fly JUST infect deer. Why dont it infect cows, dogs, cats, and so on??? And i to witnessed that NOTHING is feeding on their remains.

  • Anonymous

    A friend was down by the river flats in Muskegon co. and counted 40 dead deer. This is extremely alarming to me. Why haven’t I read anything in our chronicle on this or on the TV news.

  • Paul

    Three years ago I hunted prairie grouse in eastern Montana during September and then returned for their pheasant opener in October. My hunting party found dozens of dead deer and a few dead pronghorn while afield. The locals called it “blue tongue”, which was not correct, it was EHD. The mistake was because the dead animals had swollen tongues which appeared blue after death. Interestingly, most of the dead animals were near water or low areas that had recent water. When we were hunting in September we were plagued by mosquitoes because rains in August had flooded low areas, normally dry, and caused dormant eggs in the soil to hatch. In the two subsequent year Fall bird hunts we saw fewer deer than usual. This is a very severe, deadly disease for deer.

  • Misleading

    The DNR continues to make this outbreak seem like it’s “not that bad” and that people should still go buy licenses because there’s still a lot of deer left to kill!! It’s really a joke, for example, take a 35acre property that has 7+ dead deer found already to this point, that’s at least double what the total would be AFTER the season was over, the season(s) haven’t even started yet. The DNR would claim they can’t shut down hunting in just certain areas, this isn’t true, other States’ have done this in the past, revoked licenses and refunded money when an severe/unexpected outbreak occrus. In fact, North Dakota did that very thing just last year. Michigan’s wonderful DNR is about money and money only……it’s the quantity of licenses they can sell, not the quality of the deer herd, which happens to be their number one money-maker. They will be in for a rude-awakening next season when there aren’t any deer left to hunt in these areas and their license sales dip significantly because they chose not to be pro-active. They make it appear as if it isn’t that bad, the article even stating that just a “few” have been found in OHIO and Indiana etc……do some searching, you’ll quickly realize that there are thousands dying in those states as well. Pure Michigan.

  • dennis

    went on a boating trip from 11 mile road battle creek to beadle like road battle creek on the river and spotted 6 dead deer and 1 sick deer and could smell SEVERAL others in several other spots of the river where we couldnt see in the grass

  • dennis

    are there any visual signs that can tell the difference between an infected deer from a healthy deer from the view from a tree stand?

  • Doug

    Dan hit the nail on the head. None of the regular scavengers are feeding on these dead deer. When a possum won’t touch it, I think it’s time to step back and ask yourself why?? Michigan DNR keeps telling people it’s ok to eat this meat but i have a very hard time with those statements. Lately i have been hearing alot of questions like “during the time a deer is dying from the EHD virus”, could there be any secondary things happening to the deer that could cause the meat NOT to be suitable to consume??? Doesn’t seem to be any “facts” on that part. Another big question that never seems to get answered is ” how do these midges aquire the EHD virus”? All we ever hear is that these midges bite a deer and infect them. Anyone have anythoughts about this??

  • Dan

    We have found four dead deer on our hunting land in Ionia county. They were in various stages of decomposition and non of the regular scavengers seem to be touching them. Has any one else seen the same thing?

  • Anonymous

    I have seen 5 deer in the last 2 days on the shore of Eagle Lk. Haenle bird santuary in jackson co.

  • jason

    My dads good friend raises deer and has already lost his four biggest bucks to this. In Mahoning country near lake Milton

  • Anonymous

    There are reports of many Deer in Twinsburge, Ohio infected with EDH.
    I’m sure many other surrounding counties if people would look around.

  • Jennifer Kalish

    Shelly is right. There is no risk of EHD infection from consuming an infected deer. However, it may not be healthy. Still, the significant and unsightly symptoms shown by severely infected deer will likely deter any hunter from continuing to process the meat for consumption. Eating an infected deer with minimal symptoms would pose less of this type of risk.

  • Shelly

    Humans are not at risk by handling infected deer, eating venison from infected deer, or being
    bitten by infected Culicoides vectors. Deer that develop bacterial infections or abscesses
    secondary to hemorrhagic disease may not be suitable for consumption.

  • Don

    What if someone shoots a deer that has been infected and dresses it out and eats it without knowing the deer has been infected but not yet dead … that sounds scary to me.