Yesterday the NOAA (National Oceanographic & Oceanic Administration) confirmed that the drought plaguing much of the nation is the worst in over 50 years. That’s obviously bad news for farmers–and the rest of us–but the outlook might be equally grim for whitetails and the folks who hunt them. Hemorrhagic disease (HD), which includes EHD and blue tongue, goes hand-in-hand with drought and heat. Biologists in areas where these outbreaks occur are keeping an eye out for the first signs of deaths associated with the disease.

Both variants of HD are blood-borne illnesses caused by biting midges or flies. According to the Quality Deer Management Association, EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) and BTV (blue tongue virus) are nearly indistinguishable; infected deer may exhibit symptoms within 5 days of being bitten.

Animals become feverish and may exhibit a swollen head, neck, tongue or eyelids. Frequently deer will have difficulty breathing, lose interest in eating, and exhibit little fear of humans. Other classic signs are ulcers on the tongue and interrupted hoof growth. Though some whitetails survive HD and develop immunity, many whitetails infected for the first time will die within 10 days of exposure.

While southern states experience some level of HD outbreak almost annually, there is evidence the disease is spreading. Last fall, outbreaks occurred in eastern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey, and southeastern New York. HD also hit deer hard in portions of Kansas, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. The disease hit North Dakota whitetail herds so hard that license sales were suspended in three deer management units.

Hunters are urged to report sick deer to their local wildlife officers and game managers. HD-infected deer frequently die near water sources.