Are EHD-Infected Deer Safe to Eat?

Depending on where you live, you may have been hearing an awful lot about Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, or EHD, as it's more commonly known. The disease, which is often fatal to deer, was first recognized in 1950s, but it has made headlines this fall across the drought-stricken regions of the U.S. where tens of thousands of deer have been found dead or dying of EHD.

Many states have either reduced the number of deer tags available or, as in my home state of Nebraska, recommended wildlife officials do so. Some hunters in EHD hot zones have expressed concern about eating meat from deer that may be infected with the horrific disease. So, is it safe?

According to wildlife officials, yes.

By all accounts, the effects of EHD are exclusive to ruminants. Humans are not affected by either handling or eating EHD-infected deer meat, or even being bitten by the tiny midges or no-see-ums that transmit the virus. An obvious rule to follow is this: If the meat looks and smells fine, it probably is. If the meat, or the deer, shows any signs of sickness, ulcers, abscess, or other abnormalities, contact your local wildlife officials as soon as possible. If you're still concerned, here are a few symptoms to look for when you're in the woods this fall:

1. Deer appear thin, weak, and sickly. They might be unafraid of humans.

2. Excessive salivation or foam around the mouth and nose.

3. Swollen areas around the head and neck.

4. Erosions and ulcers on the tongue or around the mouth.

5. Detached walls of the hoof.

A good hard frost will usually kill the midge populations, putting a halt to the spread of the disease, and deer that succumb to EHD usually do so quickly (within 1-3 days). Any deer still alive and appearing healthy after the first frost date are probably disease-free. Also note, many deer contract a hemorrhagic disease and survive, showing no symptoms or ill-effects after recovery.