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Wildlife Diseases

The diseases listed below are some of the more common diseases from a human health concern andto our wildlife populations. For more information on wildlife diseases, please visit the following:

National Wildlife Health Center

Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases

Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

The term Bird Flu has sparked interest, concern and even panic in some parts of the world. The fact that the virus may be carried in migrant populations of wild birds means that it can be transported from one country, and even continent, to another.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

A fatal brain disease of deer and elk that is believed to be caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. Animals infected with CWD show progressive loss of weight and body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, depression, loss of muscle control and eventual death.

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD)
EHD is a disease that mainly affects white-tailed deer in the United States. This disease is caused by a virus that is spread by a biting midge. The disease usually affects deer herds in South Dakota in the late summer or early fall. Most refer to this disease as bluetongue and although they are very similar, they are slightly different viruses.

Hantavirus is a potentially deadly disease caused by a virus carried by rodents. It can cause Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) which causes the lungs to fill with fluid and can cause respiratory failure.

Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection transmitted by a certain type of tick called lxodes scapularis, also called the deer tick or black-legged tick. Lyme disease may cause symptoms affecting the skin, nervous system, heart and/or joints of an individual.


Plague is an infectious disease of humans and wildlife caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Plague can cause severe illness or death in humans. In the United States, an average of seven human cases is reported annually. There have been NO cases of plague in humans reported in South Dakota.

Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system. It is transmitted from infected mammals to man and is invariably fatal once symptoms appear. Only a few cases are reported each year in the United States. More information

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a disease caused by a rickettsial organism transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis, and frequently by other tick species.

Tularemia is a bacterial disease associated with both animals and man. Although many wild and domestic animals have been infected, the rabbit is most often involved in disease outbreaks.

West Nile Virus
West Nile virus disease is a mosquito-borne infection that can cause mild flu-like illness or severe encephalitis. Although chances of a person getting encephalitis are small, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of being bitten by mosquitoes. More information

White-Nose Syndrome
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease that affects hibernating bats in eastern North America. It is widely thought to be caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd). In February of 2006, a photograph of hibernating bats with strange white fuzz became the first token piece of evidence of a disease that has killed over 5 million bats. Much has been learned about Pd and the disease since its discovery, but even more remains a mystery.

Originally described as Geomyces destructans, this cold-loving fungus causes a skin infection and looks like white fuzz on the nose, ears, and membranes of the wings and tail of infected bats. Pd is found in cold and humid (>90%) environments, growing within a temperature range of 40-68 F making caves and mines ideal environments for this fungus.