A drought-related virus is killing off deer at an alarming rate, and officials are concerned that it could become an epidemic.
It's called epizootic hemorrhagic disease -- EHD, for short -- and it's spreading quickly.
It's an often-deadly virus spread to deer by a small fly called the biting midge.
"It usually occurs in the fall, and it's usually associated with drought," Chad Stewart, the Department of Natural Resources state deer biologist, told RTV6's Tanya Spencer. "So obviously we're in a really bad drought this year, and that's on the heels of a mild winter."
Stewart said the DNR started getting reports of EHD in mid-July, which is much earlier than usual.
"Usually the reports don't come in until about mid-August," Stewart said. "So that leads us to believe this is going to be more of an intense epidemic that happens."
Dead deer are being found in clusters all around the state, typically near water.
More than 50 have been found in Putnam County, and at least another 15 were found in Morgan County.
Samples from the dead deer are being sent to a lab in Georgia to confirm that they died from EHD.
It could be a couple weeks before tests from the samples are back, but all indications are that this is an EHD outbreak. EHD has already been confirmed in Michigan.
The biting midge will continue to infect deer through the first frost, so it could be awhile before officials can determine the full impact EHD is having on the deer population.
Officials said there could also be additional deer carcasses that haven't been discovered yet.
EHD does not affect humans or pets, though it will affect deer hunters in a different way.
In 2007, the last time an EHD outbreak occurred, the deer population in some places was slashed by 30 to 40 percent.
The DNR wants anyone who sees a lethargic or nonresponsive deer near water to call their local DNR office immediately so they can come take samples.
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