3 deer LI test positive for bluetongue virus, first in New York State

SOUTHAMPTON, NY – Three deer in Southampton have tested positive for bluetongue, state conservation officials said this week.

The bluetongue virus is closely related to epizootic hemorrhagic disease and is transmitted in the same way, the Department of Environmental Conservation said. Bluetongue is not transmissible to humans or pets.

The Southampton cases mark the first time bluetongue virus has been detected in New York deer; however, it has been spotted in several other states along the mid-Atlantic coast this year, conservation officials said.

Hemorrhagic disease and the virus cause similar symptoms in deer, including fever, difficulty breathing, dehydration, swelling of the head, neck and tongue, attraction to water and rapid death. Infected deer will often seek water sources. Many succumb in or near a water source. Once clinical signs of hemorrhagic disease or bluetongue infection are evident, deer usually die within 36 hours, officials said.

There is no treatment or means to prevent the disease and the virus in free-ranging deer. Dead deer do not infect other animals. Both the disease and the virus can infect cattle and sheep; Livestock rarely show signs of illness, but sheep can suffer severe illness and death from bluetongue infection, officials said.

The conservation department also reported that two white-tailed deer in the Rensselaer County town of Schodack found dead in late August and a deer in Southampton also tested positive for epizootic hemorrhagic disease. These are in addition to two deer from the Dutchess County town of Dover Plains that died from the disease in mid-August, officials said.

Hemorrhagic disease virus and bluetongue virus are usually fatal to deer. They are transmitted by biting mosquitoes, probably Culicoides sp. — small bugs often called “no-see-ums,” officials said.

Outbreaks are most common in late summer and early fall, when mosquitoes are abundant. Diseases caused by the viruses are not usually spread directly from deer to deer, and humans cannot be infected by deer or mosquito bites, the DEC said.

The hemorrhagic disease virus was first confirmed in New York in 2007 with relatively small outbreaks in Albany, Rensselaer, and Niagara counties, and in Rockland County in 2011. In 2020, a large outbreak occurred of virus in the lower Hudson Valley, centered in Putnam. and Orange counties, with public reports of approximately 1,500 dead deer. In 2021, the outbreak changed and DEC received more than 2,000 reports of dead deer primarily in Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia, Oswego and Jefferson counties.

Outbreaks do not have a significant long-term effect on deer populations, but deer mortality can be severe in small geographic areas, conservation officials said. The hemorrhagic disease virus is endemic in southern states where there are annual outbreaks, so some southern deer have developed immunity. In the Northeast, outbreaks occur sporadically, and New York’s deer have little or no immunity to the virus, officials said. Therefore, most EHD-infected deer in New York are expected to die. In the north, the first hard frost kills the mosquitoes that transmit the disease, ending the outbreak of EHD and BT.

Sightings of sick or dying deer should be reported online or to the nearest DEC Regional Office or Environmental Conservation Officer. More information on EHD and a link to publicly report deer with EHD symptoms can be found here. DEC can collect deer samples and analyze data from deer reports to determine the extent of the outbreak.

Last year, deer in Suffolk County also died from EHD, according to the DEC.

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