New Jersey’s deer population may be at risk from a deadly strain of virus that normally sweeps through deer herds in the Southern states each year.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection said most of the reports of possible epizootic hemorrhagic disease serotype 2 virus deer deaths are coming from South Jersey.

Cases of a serotype 2 virus-caused death in the state this year have occurred in Salem and Gloucester counties, DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said. DEP staff is waiting for test results to determine whether other deer in Cape May, Cumberland and Camden counties also died of serotype 2 virus, he said.

DEP officials said there is little information about the exact extent of the problem. That lack of information has DEP and South Jersey sportsmen unsure about what EHD is actually doing to deer herds that roam the region’s woodlands and suburban areas.

“Some of our members are concerned because they are hunters,” said Paul Adamowski, an Upper Township resident who is president of the Millville-based Cumberland Riflemen. “They have no idea as to the extent or how big this is.”

Galloway Township resident Eric Gaupp, president of the Atlantic County chapter of the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen, said members of his chapter are taking extra steps to find deer that may have died from EHD. Those members who are hunting in deep woods are specifically walking along streams and creeks to find carcasses of deer that might have succumbed to EHD, he said.

DEP officials said deer found dead near bodies of water, and which show no sign of injuries, are prime candidates to be tested for EHD.

“The guys do get concerned,” Gaupp said. “They are trying to help.”

The New Jersey season for deer bow hunting begins Sept. 29.

DEP officials said a combined 17 New Jersey deer deaths from the serotype 2 virus have been confirmed in 2007, 2010, 2011 and this year. The only way to confirm a death caused by an EHD strain is to run tests on the carcass — a process DEP officials said begins with the less-than-perfect reporting system of deer carcasses found by members of the public.

Ragonese said that means EHD — which poses no threat to humans —– may be killing deer in inaccessible places such as deep woods and remote mud flats. Deer carcasses there often go undiscovered, he said.

Given that lack of initial information, DEP officials are not sure whether the number of EHD-caused deaths are few in number or a widespread problem.

While tracking the extent of the virus is difficult, Bill Stansley, a research scientist with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, said researchers in New Jersey are at least sure of one thing: Deer in the Garden State have likely not developed immunity to serotype 2 virus as have deer in southern states.

“If it were to become a frequent occurrence, then we might get a sign of immunity buildup,” Stansley said. “The long-term impacts of EHD on the deer population aren’t that well understood.”

Among the many concerns about EHD is whether it can “morph into something else” in the future, Ragonese said.

State officials estimate New Jersey’s deer population at likely more than 150,000. White tail deer make up the bulk of that population.

Deer in New Jersey have died from EHD in the past, but not from the serotype 2 virus. There were outbreaks of the EHD serotype 1 virus in 1955, 1975 and 1999. The number of serotype 1 virus-related deaths was not available.

EHD is spread through a deer population by the bite of a species of midge called Culiocoides sonorensis. The tiny midge resembles a mosquito.

Deer infected with EHD generally lose their appetite, grow progressively weaker and salivate heavily. They die within five to 10 days.

Deer generally show EHD symptoms in late summer and early fall. The problem ends when a freeze or cold weather kills off the midges.

Stansley said state researchers are working with officials at the University of Georgia’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study. The study is doing considerable research into EHD.

Officials with the organization were not available for comment.

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