White-tailed deer

In many states, it’s hard to go for a walk in the woods without spotting a white-tailed deer nibbling leaves in the distance. But as the climate changes, a disease that threatens deer populations is on the rise.

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, is spread to deer by an insect called a midge. Infected deer can become extremely ill and die.

Jonathan Sleeman directs the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center. He says during warm, dry years, midges reproduce more and live longer, which can lead to more sick deer.

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While EHD is found in many parts of the country, it’s most common in the southeast. But as the climate warms, more midges are moving into the northeast, and they are carrying the disease with them.

Sleeman: “When a disease moves into a new area, these deer have never been exposed to this disease before. They lack any sort of immunity and so we often see a lot more severe outbreaks in these new geographic areas.”

The disease cannot spread to humans. But Sleeman still recommends avoiding venison from infected deer and reporting sick animals to local wildlife agencies.

Reporting credit: Mark Knapp/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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