Whitetail populations are susceptible to a verity of diseases and parasites. Every year it seems that we have some type of outbreak that puts populations of deer around the country at risk. Although most diseases whitetails get are harmless to humans, knowing what these ailments look like could help you better manage your deer or avoid eating deer that you should not.
1) Hemorrhagic Disease (HD)
HD is the most common type of viral disease that affects whitetail and has multiple strains including Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), and Blue Tounge . This year, EHD has made a large outbreak and started a buzz, much like the CWD outbreak last year in 2018.
Hemorrhagic Disease is a viral infection spread to whitetail deer by small flys known as biting midges which are also called regional names such as sand gnats, sand flies, no-see-ums and punkies. These gnats are generally more abundant during droughts, or in areas with large amounts of mud. Once a deer is infected, it may or may not show symptoms. Some deer can carry the virus for months or years and not show symptoms, while others show symptoms within days.
These are the signs of HD according to Dr. Howarth of Iowa State University,
“In general, deer infected with EHD lose their appetite, lose their fear of people, grow weak, show excessive salivation, develop a rapid pulse, have a rapid respiration rate, show signs of a fever which include lying in bodies of water to reduce their body temperature, become unconscious, and have a blue tongue from the lack of oxygen in the blood”
HD is not transferable to humans. So, the animal is safe to eat, but personally, I would not eat it if I did not have to. If you see an outbreak of HD on a property that you are managing the only choice you have is to let it run its course. As of 2019, there is not a cure for HD. Sadly, if your population of whitetail does contract the disease you can expect around 25%-30% death from the disease, although numbers as high as 50% have been reported.
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2) Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a prion disease that affects elk or Wapiti, red deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, white-tailed deer, Sika deer, reindeer, and moose. It has been found in some areas of North America, including Canada and the United States, Norway, and South Korea. It may take over a year before an infected animal develops symptoms, which can include drastic weight loss (wasting), stumbling, listlessness, abnormal behavior, and loss of bodily functions. CWD can affect animals of all ages and some infected animals may die without ever developing the disease. CWD spread through the contact of bodily fluids and is 100% fatal to animals and there are no treatments or vaccines. (Center for Disease Control)
“CWD belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Within this family of diseases, there are several other variants that affect domestic animals: scrapie, which has been identified in domestic sheep and goats for more than 200 years, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle (also known as “mad cow disease”), and transmissible mink encephalopathy in farmed mink. ” (CWD-info.org)
As of 2019, there have not been any cases of Chronic Wasting Disease being transferred to humans. Although there have been other cases of CWD being transferred to primates that eat infected meat or come in contact with body fluids from the infected animal. Even though there have not been any reported cases in Humans, the World Health Organization has strongly suggested to not consume animals infected with Chronic Wasting Disease.
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3) Bovine Tuberculosis
“Bovine tuberculosis (bovine Tb) is a disease found in mammals caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis). In North America, bovine Tb is most commonly found in domestic cattle and captive and wild cervids (white-tailed deer, elk, etc.) and less commonly in other mammals such as raccoon, opossums, coyotes, and wild boars. ” (Perdue University)
Bovine Tb causes the animal to have issues with their respiratory system and can cause high fevers. The disease is spread through bodily secretions like urine, feces, blood, breast milk, or saliva. With the correct environment, the bacteria can live for months and infect mammals that come in direct contact with it. This is one reason that baiting deer in high-risk Tb locations has became illegal. The deer can feed at these piles and leave saliva on other bits of food which are then ingested by healthy whitetail.
While highly unlikely it is technically possible for humans to contract TB from Whitetails. If you harvest a whitetail in a TB prevalence zone, you should avoid eating organs and make sure the meat is cooked thoroughly with an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F. This will kill all bacteria if the deer happens to be infected.
4) Cutaneous Fibroma / Deer Warts
Cutaneous Fibroma is a viral infection spread by insects that typically infects 0.4% – 2.4% of deer around the age of 2 years old (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association). They are brown/black lumps that grow on the deer but rarely grow beneath the skin.
Deer warts are a common occurrence throughout the country. Seemingly every population has seen them to some degree. Cutaneous Fibromas are harmless tumors that can grow on all parts of the body. The only way these become dangerous is if they begin to inhibit sight, breathing, eating or the ability to walk. Otherwise, these warts are harmless to the deer and can eventually go away.
Fibromas are the most reported deer illness and are seen all around the United States of America every year. Under normal circumstances, a hunter probably will not even see warts until further inspection after the kill. Not to worry, these Cutaneous Fibromas do not affect the edibility of the deer and are 100% harmless to humans, other than the gross aesthetic nature.
5) Brain Abscesses
A brain abscess is a bacterial infection that gets into a wound close to the head and makes its way to the brain, where it then begins to make pockets of puss that have nowhere to go. Many bacteria can cause this but typically this infection is caused by an Arcanobacterium Pyogenes. This type of bacteria is not uncommon and can live on the skin or gums of cervids. The bacteria enters through an open wound, which for whitetail bucks could be a scrape on a velvet antler, or through the pedicle (base of the antler) of a shed or damaged antler.
“Nearly 90 percent of all documented cases of brain abscesses have been from bucks, especially mature bucks greater than 3.5 years old,” (Chas Moore, Wildlife Biologist, with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries). When a whitetail gets a brain abscess, it is normally fatal. These abscesses are thought to be one of the main reasons for non-Human death among older bucks. Some symptoms of a brain abscess are: abnormal activity, loss of appetite, blindness, and fearlessness of humans or predators. They are basically just a pocked of puss endlessly growing in the deer’s brain, which causes immense pressure and can be very painful.
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