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Dr. Katherine Edwards
Wildlife Management Specialist

Wildlife Diseases

Wildlife diseases naturally occur in wild populations and certain diseases and disease outbreaks target specific species. Some wildlife diseases can be transmitted to humans. This section provides information about some of the most common and/or most significant wildlife diseases that can occur in wild populations, including the species seen in Fairfax County.

More Information: Wildlife diseases (CDC)

Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a transmissible, fatal, neurological disease that affects deer, elk, and moose in North America. CWD is caused by abnormal infectious proteins called prions, which can be passed between deer through saliva, feces, urine, and through water or soil contaminated with prions. CWD was first detected in Virginia in 2009. In response, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has initiated disease surveillance and management measures, including the designation of three Disease Management Areas. The Fairfax County Deer Management Program has partnered with the DWR since 2019 to conduct CWD surveillance for deer harvested in the county program. More information about CWD is provided in the links below.

Hemorrhagic Disease (HD)

Hemorrhagic Disease is an important infectious disease of white-tailed deer, and outbreaks occur almost every year in the Southeast. It is caused by either of two closely related viruses, epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) virus or bluetongue virus. Because disease features produced by these viruses are indistinguishable, a general term, hemorrhagic disease (HD), often is used when the specific virus responsible is unknown. HD is transmitted by biting flies and occurs seasonally in late summer and early fall.

Cutaneous Fibromas

Nasal Bots

Abdominal Worms

Arterial Worms

Information about Lyme disease and the ticks that transmit the bacteria ( Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes this disease is provided by the Fairfax County Health Department’s Disease Carrying Insects Program and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

Information about Rabies is provided by the Fairfax County Health Department and Fairfax County Animal Services Division.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Virginia Department of Health for additional information about the rabies virus and its effect on animals and humans.

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease caused by a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), that affects hibernating bats. The fungus infects skin of the muzzle, ears, and wings of bats and has led to high mortality rates and death millions of bats across North America. This fungus thrives in cold, damp environments where bats hibernate for winter. Pd infects and grows on bats during hibernation leading to skin damage and causing bats to warm up and become active which depletes their energy reserves needed to make it through winter and results in starvation. Several species are affected, with the hardest-hit being the northern long-eared bat, little brown bat, and tricolored bat.

Mange is a highly contagious skin disease caused by parasitic mites that affects many wild and domestic mammals. Several species of mange mites generally affect different species of animals. The most common type of mange affecting wildlife in our area is sarcoptic mange, caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. Mange primarily afflicts red fox populations in Fairfax County but has also been spreading within the black bear population in Virginia.

Mange causes intense itching and inflammation from an allergic reaction to the mite. Wildlife with mange often exhibit hair thinning and loss, thickening and wrinkling of the skin, scabbing, skin lesions and secondary bacterial skin infections that result in foul-smelling crusts from scratching. Mange cannot be diagnosed simply by looking at an animal. A skin scrape and microscopic evaluation is required for proper diagnosis. Many animals suspected to have mange are afflicted by other conditions that cause hair loss thickening of skin, and other signs commonly associated with mange, including ringworm, bacteria, other parasites, or even routine shedding.

Animals may recover from mange without intervention when low-level infections are present and their immune system is not severely compromised. Severely affected animals may become emaciated, dehydrated and lethargic as they have difficulty locating food, are unable to rest due to discomfort and cannot maintain appropriate body temperature. Mange can be debilitating in colder months and may lead to starvation and hypothermia.

Wildlife officials are frequently contacted asking about treatments for mange. Treating mange in wildlife can only be done legally by a licensed veterinarian or permitted wildlife rehabilitator working under the direction of a veterinarian in a controlled setting with an approved permit by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. Although some rescue groups and resources suggest using antiparasitic drugs that can be used to treat mange, it is unlawful for a person to administer medications to wildlife without a permit in Virginia or to place medicated food or bait in the wild. While these actions may be well-intentioned, leaving out medications for wildlife is neither safe nor legal. Without proper veterinary diagnosis or way to ensure the right animal receives the medication and correct dosage, it can be toxic and even lethal to wildlife and other animals including domestic pets that may unintentionally ingest the drug. While it may be difficult to observe animals in this condition, disease plays an important natural role in regulating wildlife populations and health.

Raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) is a parasite and can infect humans who accidentally ingest infective eggs in soil, water, or on objects that have been contaminated with raccoon feces. Human infections are rare, but can be severe if the parasites invade the eye, organs or the brain. Fewer than 25 cases of Baylisascaris disease have been documented in the United States. More information on raccoon roundworm is provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus serotype 2 (RHDV2) is caused by infection with a calicivirus. It is highly infectious and exhibits a high mortality rate. All domestic and wild rabbits and hares are susceptible to the virus and severe local or landscape-level rabbit population declines are possible. It was diagnosed in wild rabbits in North America for the first time in April 2020. RHDV2 is not a human health concern.

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