COMMENTARY BY DR. DAVE SAMUEL
As I was writing my column for today, a bowhunting friend, George Coleman, sent me a message and photo of an insect asking what it was. The message said that in recent years most all the deer he harvests on a farm in Marion County have these insects.
A quick Google led to many pictures of deer keds, and they are relatively new to West Virginia. In fact a Penn State publication in 2019 described the range of several species of deer keds and the only one we have was only found in a few locations in eastern West Virginia. But that publication, and others, noted that deer keds are rapidly spreading across the United States. After reading several journal articles on deer keds, my thoughts are that keds are as bad as ticks both for us, our dogs, and deer and other wildlife. With deer season here, deer hunters need to be very aware of deer keds. Here is why.
Deer keds are introduced species of biting flies originally found in Europe, Siberia, and China. They parasitize deer, elk, moose, horses, cattle, and humans. On humans they take blood in 15 minutes and you won’t feel the bite. Although there is not the data to prove that you can get Lyme disease from keds, it appears very possible.
Once a hunter has a deer on the ground, if the deer has keds (there may be thousands on a deer), one area to check is the belly. You will see them scurrying around on the skin, under the hair. That’s a major difference from ticks. Ticks can be attached to the deer, but keds are not. Keds are a bit bigger than an adult tick. They move fast, and they can jump from the deer to you. You won’t feel them bite, but if you get bit, the site becomes a hard red welt within a few days. After three days there will be an intense itch that can last two to three weeks.
How do deer get them? The keds emerge from the soil in the fall, they then fly to a host (deer), shed their wings and get a blood meal from the deer. They then mate and live there for life. The females lay eggs and larvae hatch and drop to the soil and later emerge as a winged adult.
Here’s the big negative. Keds are vectors for the same bacteria that ticks have that causes Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. Since the presence of deer keds in West Virginia is relatively recent, physicians probably won’t recognize the bite lesions as a problem, so keeping them off you is your best bet.
The good news (maybe) is that there is no proof that deer keds can give you Lyme disease or anaplasmosis. However, keds haven’t been around very long so studies looking at this potential problem are just getting started. If I had to guess, I’d say that ked bites can give you Lyme disease, simply because they carry the same bacteria ticks carry that causes Lyme disease.
What precautions should deer hunters take? First, note that keds haven’t been found in most of West Virginia, but they are coming. As of 2019 they had only been found in Tucker County, but as noted my friend found them in Marion County. (For a range map google “range map deer keds”. I’m sure hunters will find some in other countries once they know what to look for. If you handle dead deer from those areas, I heartily recommend you treat your clothes with Permethrin. Note, you cannot put Permethrin on your skin. But you can put Sawyer Products 20% Picaridan Insect Repellent on your skin and you need to reapply it several times a day.
If I’m skinning or handling a dead deer from Marion or Tucker County, I’m going to put the above on my skin and clothes. Just what we needed, another darn, serious deer disease.