Experts Say Drought May Have Fueled EHD Outbreak

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2012's drought may have fueled a virus that infected thousands of deer and cattle in Nebraska this past summer. That's what experts noted about Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease at the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association's annual convention this week.

"Certainly ten-, twenty-fold increase over what we've seen the last few years," said Roger Dudley of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

The disease causes symptoms such as oral lesions and lameness and is transmitted by biting midges.

"The insect that transmits the disease, that transmits the virus, was definitely more prevalent because of the drought. So we assumed that because of the drought and the hot summer that led to more insect activity," Dudley said.

Fortunately for ranchers, EHD is seldom fatal for cattle. And experts say EHD also does not affect humans. They also say that meat of animals that have been infected is safe to eat.

EHD is often fatal for deer however, and in 2012, the number of reported mortalities was close to 6,000. On an average year, it's fewer than 100.

"It was a very severe event. We've probably lost 25 percent of our deer," said Bruce Trindle of the Nebraska Games and Parks Commission.

Regardless of mortality rates, experts say its important to study EHD because its symptoms are similar to those of more severe diseases.

"If everybody just assumes it's EHD and they don't check this out, if one of these bad diseases would get introduced, it could be missed and the disease could get out of control faster," said Dudley.

And with another drought predicted for summer 2013, experts say EHD may be back with full force.