Pennsylvania Game Commission officers are investigating the cause of death for nearly a dozen white-tailed deer found by agency employees on the Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area in Crawford County.
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) is suspected, which has been confirmed in Beaver and Westmoreland counties, and is suspected in Allegheny and Cambria counties.
Game Commission biologists will attempt to collect samples for testing at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia, which has confirmed deer mortalities from four different strains of the EHD virus in 15 states this year.
The Game Commission will continue to gather samples from other dead deer being found in Pennsylvania.
Samples must be collected within 24 hours of the animal's death to be viable. Once the results are available, which normally takes around two weeks, the Game Commission will release the findings to the public.
"Once again, we are suspecting that the deer died of EHD, based on our field investigations and the fact that EHD already has been confirmed in the southwestern portion of the state," said Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian. "There are no management actions or practices to prevent or limit mortality caused by EHD. Fortunately, EHD should be curtailed with the first hard frost, which will kill the midges that are spreading the disease."
EHD is a seasonal disease and the affected local deer herd can rebound quickly. It is one of the most common diseases among white-tailed deer in the United States, and is contracted by the bite of insects called midges or "no-see-ums."
The virus of EHD usually kills the animal within 5-10 days, and is not spread directly from deer to deer. While EHD is not infectious to humans, deer displaying severe symptoms of EHD may not be suitable for consumption.
In 2011, EHD was confirmed in Northampton and Erie counties. EHD was confirmed in southwestern Pennsylvania in 2002 and 2007. It also was suspected to be the cause of death in nearly 25 deer in Adams County in 1996, but tests conducted at that time were inconclusive.
"Pennsylvania deer do not usually live long enough to span the time between outbreaks, so they are do not have immunity when the next outbreak comes along, and the disease will be fatal," Dr. Cottrell said.
Information on EHD can be found on the Game Commission's website ( www.pgc.state.pa.us) by clicking on the "EHD Info" icon in the center of the homepage.
A study published in the peer-reviewed public health journal, Zoonoses and Public Health, has found that free-roaming cats pose a threat from "serious public health diseases" to humans, domestic animals, and wildlife.
The paper was authored by R.W. Gerhold of the University of Tennessee's Center for Wildlife Health, Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, and by D.A. Jessup, retired from the California Department of Fish and Game.
Among the key findings of the paper are:
• Free roaming cats are an important source of animal-transmitted, serious diseases such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, and plague.
• Free roaming cats account for the most cases of human rabies exposure among domestic animals, and are the source for one-third of rabies post-exposure treatments in the United States.
• Trap, neuter, and release (TNR) programs may lead to increased, non-inoculated populations of cats that can serve as a source of transmittable serious diseases.
The study found that, since 1988, rabies has been detected more frequently in cats than in dogs; in 2008, the number of cats detected with rabies was four times higher than dogs. In 2010, rabies cases declined for all domestic animals except cats, which comprised 62 percent of all rabies cases for domestic animals.
"This is a significant study that documents serious wildlife and public health issues associated with 125 million outdoor cats in the United States. Decision-making officials need to start looking at the unintended impacts these animals have on both the environment and human health when they consider arguments to sanction Trap, Neuter, and Return cat colonies. These colonies are highly detrimental to cats, wildlife, and people, and only serve to exacerbate the cat overpopulation problem," said Darin Schroeder, vice president for Conservation Advocacy at American Bird Conservancy.
The author's report that the data suggest that neutered cat groups act as an attractant of sexually intact free-roaming cats, thus negating the belief that TNR programs lead to decreases in free-roaming cat populations.
The report also cited the dangers associated with TNR feeding stations in attracting raccoons, skunks, foxes and other wild animals associated with rabies.
The feeding stations not only increase the likelihood of contact between humans and rabies-exposed animals, they also increase the human and wildlife exposure to a potentially fatal parasite, raccoon roundworm, harbored by raccoons that is being seen in ever-increasing parts of the country.
The danger to wildlife was illustrated in a 2008 study that found that five Florida panthers were killed as a result of a single such infected cat.