GAINSVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida scientists are working with deer farmers to test a new vaccine that could help prevent a deadly disease in deer.
The disease, called epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, does not affect humans, but is the number one cause of herd loss on deer farms, said Samantha Wisely, associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Wisely directs the UF/IFAS Cervidae Health Research Initiative (CHeRI), which already provides diagnostic services to deer farmers and will now work with farms to test the vaccine’s effectiveness.
“To test if this vaccine works, we need deer farmers to participate in the study,” Wisely said. “When deer farmers vaccinate their animals, my lab will compare data from vaccinated and non-vaccinated animals and measure the effectiveness of the treatment.”
An independent manufacturer developed the vaccine, and CHeRI has partnered with them to test it in Florida, where it could make a positive impact on the deer farming industry. “There is sound science behind this vaccine, and CHeRI has the resources to coordinate testing with farmers and analyze the results,” Wisely said.
The deer farmers in the study are raising white tailed deer that will be released in hunting preserves, not harvested for venison, which typically comes from another deer species, Wisely said.
Deer trophy hunting is an economically important industry in the U.S., she said.
“Deer farming for trophy hunting is one of the fastest growing rural industries in the U.S., and Florida is ranked fourth in deer farm production. We have about 300 deer farms, located in 60 of our 67 counties, so the industry is widespread,” Wisely said. “Nationally, deer trophy hunting is an $8 billion industry, so keeping deer healthy is economically important for farmers, and it helps improve the health of wild deer populations.”
EHD is spread through the bites of no-see-’ums, a type of midge. Infected deer decline quickly and usually die within a few days. There is no cure, but a successful vaccine could help prevent many of these deaths, Wisely said.
The vaccine is free to Florida deer farmers, who are also encouraged to use CHeRI diagnostic services, regardless of their participation in the study, Wisely said.
–Samantha Grenrock, UF/IFAS