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Deer Die In North Alabama Due To Sheep Disease

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) cooperating with the USDA Reference Lab in Iowa has confirmed in a written statement that Malignant Catarrhal Fever (MCF) also known as ovine herpesvirus-2 (OvHv-2) was the pathogen responsible for a recent die-off at a licensed deer-breeding facility in North Alabama.

MCF is a potentially fatal viral disease of cloven-hoofed (even-hoofed) animals such as cattle, deer, and pigs.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries reports that since the beginning of the outbreak in May, the die-off was contained to the breeding facility.  Now that the cause of death has been determined, all preventative measures to stop the virus from spreading to the remainder of the whitetail herd have been taken.

The domesticated sheep were housed in a pen adjoining the pens of the deer and showed no symptoms.  The virus spread from the sheep to the deer.  The deer had no immunity to the ovine herpes virus and began dying.

State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier said in a written statement, “This isolated incident reminds producers how important it is to have strict bio-security measures in place. Diseases like MCF that are asymptomatic in domestic animals can be devastating to native wild animals.”

According to the Alabama Department of Agriculture statement herpes viruses are widely distributed in nature, and long-lived infections can occur in multiple animal species. The herpes virus associated with sheep is called ovine herpesvirus-2 (OvHV-2). OvHV-2 is the predominant cause of MCF outside of Africa and is a cause of disease in domesticated animals and whitetail deer in the United States.  Sheep are often infected with the OvHV-2 virus; however, these sheep are usually clinically normal.

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MCF poses no threat to humans, pets or any other domesticated livestock and these affected deer will not transmit this virus to other deer or livestock.

Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan said, “This case shows how critical the working relationship is between our agency and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). The cause of the die-off was concluded, and both agencies assisted the facility owner with the determining the best course of action.”

The facility had passed a routine herd inspection earlier this year as part of a joint monitoring program between the DCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) and the ADAI.
WFF Chief of Enforcement Kevin Dodd said, “Artificial conditions such as the penning of multiple species together like wild sheep and deer can spread pathogens that are normally restricted to one species.”

In 2010 in Texas there was a cattle disease outbreak on the large Camp Cooley Ranch after a rare disease was transmitted from wildebeests that they were raising in captivity.

Many wealthy hunters breed deer like domestic livestock to improve the trophy quality of the animals they hunt.  Some in the hunting community have expressed concerns that captive breeding increases the likelihood of disease outbreaks, since captive deer are typically stocked at a much higher rate than wild deer, whose population is controlled by the scarcity of forage during the winter.

Typically in a captive environment stocking rates are increased in the winter months by providing hay, grain, and minerals to the herd……like on a livestock farm.  Captive deer hunting farms are suspected to have played a role in the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) which has killed thousands of deer across the country.  Fortunately, this deer die off was proven not to be due to CWD which has shown to be incredibly difficult to contain once it gets into the wild deer herd.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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