Disease kills hundreds of deer in NC foothills

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CALDWELL COUNTY, N.C. - A disease is killing deer by the hundreds in the North Carolina foothills.

Most of the people Eyewitness News talked with reported seeing the deer carcasses near creeks in northern Caldwell County. Wildlife biologists said that's because the deer look for a cool place after their temperature spikes while fighting off the virus.

State wildlife biologist Danny Ray has fielded calls on dying deer much of the last two months.  The virus killing the animals is called hemorrhagic disease.

"They act sick; they stumble around; they hold their head low,” Ray said.

Experts said the virus is in various parts of North Carolina, but the hardest-hit is an area of northern Caldwell County.

Homeowner Don Edwards said he found a dead deer in his pond. 

“Everybody has a story that they've seen one,” Edwards said. “The big fields across the street -- there's one a week."

Wildlife biologists said the disease is spread by biting midge or gnats, allowing the virus to enter the bloodstream.  They shared photos of deer found dead in Mountain Island Lake. Four cases have also been confirmed in Mecklenburg County. 

Bobby Haley showed Eyewitness News the information he has posted on the disease inside his business north of Lenoir.  The disease has no impact on humans or domestic pets, and outbreaks typically end when frost kills off the gnats. 

But it is something few people in the area will forget.

"I've never experienced deer smelling like these have,” Haley said. “They are decaying from the inside out.”

Wildlife biologists fear the number of cases in Caldwell County may actually be much higher than 500.   Those are just the reported cases -- the number of deaths could be in the thousands.