A tiny gnat also known as a “biting midge” is spreading a deadly disease among North Carolina’s white-tailed deer.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has received multiple reports of dead, dying and sick deer in the Southern Appalachians as a result of hemorrhagic disease. The disease causes no harm to humans or to dogs, cats and other pets.
Western North Carolina counties with moderate disease activity this year are Swain, Clay, Cherokee, Macon and Transylvania, according to the commission.
The disease is common among deer and tends to occur in North Carolina every year, commission officials said. The disease typically dies off after the first frost.
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Hunters could see dead deer as a result of the disease this hunting season, the commission said in a news alert, but should know that the recent outbreak is cyclic and the deer population will rebound.
Hunters can still eat venison from animals harvested in the area of the disease outbreak, because exposure to the virus poses no health risk to humans, the commission said. “As always, hunters should be cautious of consuming venison from any animal with obvious signs of illness,” the commission added.
Two viruses cause the disease – one producing blue tongue and the other producing epizootic hemorrhagic disease. Tests of infected animals show epizootic hemorrhagic disease appears to be causing this year’s outbreak.
Common symptoms among infected deer include emaciation, loss of motor control, fever, lameness and swelling of the neck and head. Residents should report dead or obviously sick-looking deer to their local district biologist to help monitor the impact of the disease.
Deer that recover from the disease develop immunity to future outbreaks, and populations quickly recover from even severe hemorrhagic disease outbreaks, according to the commission.
The last major outbreak of the disease, in 2014, hit Franklin and surrounding western N.C. counties. Other notable outbreaks over the past two decades occurred in 2000, 2002, 2007, 2011 and 2012.