Low risk to livestock
EASTERN ONTARIO — Four white-tailed deer are confirmed to have died of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in Ontario this fall, three around the Kingston area and one around Amherstburg. But the insect-borne virus, which has turned up in the province only once before, poses little risk to domestic ruminants and none to humans.
Nonetheless, “it’s important for deer hunters, wildlife managers, farmers and livestock owners to know about EHD,” says Larissa Nituch, science operations supervisor in the wildlife research and monitoring section at the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry.
“It is a serious disease with the potential to cause large-scale outbreaks in wild animals, however outbreaks of EHD are usually short-lived and do not pose a long-term threat to deer populations,” she says.
Endemic in the southern U.S. for decades, EHD infects deer exclusively through biting midges or “no see ums” that may range up into Ontario during the warm season — possibly assisted by the wind. But the bugs are ultimately killed off by the hard frost here, and the disease is not spread from animal to animal.
Infected deer get a fever that may drive them to be in or near water, where their carcasses are often found.
Ontario’s first cases occurred in 2017 with the discovery of two dead deer near London. This year’s return “incursion” of the disease to Ontario also coincides with a rash of cases in northern states like New York, Vermont and Wisconsin, says Dr. Tim Pasma, an OMAFRA veterinarian.
With the new Kingston cases in their neighbourhood, the Leeds Federation of Agriculture recently hosted an online information session with Pasma and other officials who allayed concerns about risk to cows, sheep and goats.
“Certainly, the risk in Ontario is considered low,” Pasma told Farmers Forum, noting the virus is not endemic here. “It can infect cattle and bison, and more rarely it infects sheep and goats. But it’s short-lived in livestock, and most times, the animals recover.”