(NewsNation) — The deer in Ohio are acting strange. Their fur is discolored and patchy. They stare off into the distance. And they seem unfazed by sirens or officers shouting at them.
Are zombie deer running loose in Ohio? No. These oddly behaving deer are just sick.
A breakout of epizootic hemorrhagic disease is impacting these deer, causing them to look frightening and act in a manner uncharacteristic to their species.
“It’s a viral disease that affects a variety of different types of deer in Indiana,” said Katherine Michelle Benavidez Westrich, a biologist for Indiana Fish and Wildlife. “Whitetail deer are the animal that’s most affected, it causes flu-like signs. So these deer oftentimes will develop fevers. For that reason, they tend to seek out water to alleviate those fevers and as the disease progresses, they start to display what looks like neurological science. So they’ll be drinking the water over and over again, they might start having what looks like seizures.”
The disease deteriorates less than 24 hours after the deer’s death and cannot be spread after death. It does not affect humans and poses little to no risk to livestock.
But it does decrease the population size, which means there are fewer deer to hunt.
“It’s important to remember that diseases are very common in the environment, and it’s part of what keeps nature in balance, essentially,” Benavidez Westrich said.
EHD is common in the United States, and typically peaks in late summer right before fall. But after the first frost, the number of cases goes down.
Ohio and other states have experienced massive outbreaks, and officials warn they are becoming more and more common.
According to the state agency, deer with EHD have been found in at least 28 counties in Ohio this summer.
Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources expects the population to bounce back, but fears cases of EHD will grow worse each year.
“The best advice would be to report that to your health officials in the area,” Benavidez Westrich said. “We use those reports to track trends across time so we can essentially monitor the spread of this disease and monitor its temporality, as well”