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Keep your eye out for deer acting strangely by Ron Kolodziej

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - Updated: 7:36 AM

This is very interesting. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is asking the public to report any instances of deer appearing sick or acting abnormally. That includes deer that appear to have died from unknown causes, but not those killed by motor vehicles.

Anyone who sees a whitetail deer acting abnormally or who finds a dead deer that was not struck by a vehicle is asked to report it to the nearest DEC regional office or to an environmental conservation officer or forest ranger.

This warning / request was prompted by the agency’s recent identification of an “uncommon bacterial disease” in a deer in Warren County. The disease is alleged to not affect humans; DEC is seeking additional information to determine its prevalence in the deer herd.

Deer with this condition may act abnormally and have a swollen head, neck or brisket and may exhibit excessive drooling, nasal discharge or respiratory distress. The agency warns people not to handle or eat any deer that appear sick. I’ll certainly take that advice to heart.

Right now it’s being called a “mystery” and “unusual” by many and the circumstances certainly are. Hunters last month found a dying deer in Thurman, near Stony Creek in Warren County, which exhibited many of the symptoms cited above. They wisely reported it.

DEC says an examination of the carcass detected the presence of the bacteria pasteurella. This bacteria is found in the mouths of most cats, as well as a significant number of dogs and other critters including rabbits, and occasionally can be spread to a human from an animal’s saliva or nose mucous.

What effect it could have on humans is questionable, as is how the deer contracted it. It’s wise to avoid any contact with whitetails acting erratically and to report any such sightings to DEC.

There sure seems to be a plethora of animal maladies affecting our deer herd and other critters lately. Perhaps it’s just my imagination, or perhaps we’re just getting better at identifying these illnesses, but the list has grown considerably from chronic wasting disease (CWD) to epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) to Lyme disease and more and it doesn’t seem to quit.

For example - and we may be talking apples and oranges here - back in 2009 two deer hunters, one in Virginia and another in Connecticut, developed strange sores and raised lesions on their index fingers a few weeks after dressing whitetail deer they’d bagged in their home states. Both men had nicked their fingers while dressing the deer and within a few weeks nasty-looking lesions had formed at the sites of those nicks.

Since their injuries were slow to heal, both men eventually went to their respective physicians for treatment and counsel.

Not knowing quite what the hunters had, samples were sent independently by the physicians to the Centers for Disease Control. The culprit turned out to be a previously unknown virus (not a bacteria as suspected above).

DNA analyses concluded the virus belongs to a big group called parapoxyviruses that often infect goats, sheep, cattle and reindeer. The only humans who had heretofore been infected were herders, who have a lot of daily contact with their animals.

The virus strain found in the whitetails didn’t appear to cause the deer or the hunters any harm and both gents recovered nicely. Of course, the deer are dead but at least the hunters aren’t.

The lesions experienced by the Virginia hunter healed in a few months, though he said he still felt a little pain around the nicked area as late as the following summer. The Connecticut hunter’s experience was about the same, though the CDC says both men have fully recovered without any lasting problems.

Scientists say this kind of virus doesn’t appear to be a health problem for deer, and neither human case was very serious, but it could cause problems for individuals with weakened immune systems. Perhaps worse, the resultant lesions could be misidentified as something else, like anthrax, and then treated improperly.

Does this mean we’re in for another round of infected deer, like CWD? Not likely, and I wouldn’t worry about it; just be aware of it. Two cases nationwide is hardly an epidemic.

However, I can empathize with the hunters. Some years ago, after field dressing a deer with multiple ticks, I decided gutting gloves might be a wise idea. They did hamper my field dressing activities a bit, but more importantly, I succeeded in poking my knife through the gloves and nicking my fingers almost every time I used them; carelessness on my part, I guess.

The gloves may have helped me avoid the ticks, but once punctured they wouldn’t have protected me from any blood-borne disease the deer may have had. I’ll just have to learn to be more careful.

Aside from a few ticks I’ve occasionally found on my clothing, I’ve never knowingly contracted any sort of malady from any deer I’ve ever field dressed, either before or after using gutting gloves.

     

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