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Lyme Disease and White-tailed Deer

The relationship between deer and the disease is complex. Deer show no symptoms of the disease. Deer may carry small numbers of the spirochete that causes Lyme disease but they are dead-end hosts for the bacterium. Deer cannot infect another animal directly and no deer hunter has acquired the disease from dressing out a deer. Infected ticks that drop from deer present little risk to humans or other animals since the ticks are now at the end of their life cycle and will not feed again. There is no evidence that humans can become infected by eating venison from an infected deer. In addition, the Lyme organism is killed by the high temperatures that would be reached when venison is cooked or smoked. Deer supply the tick that transmits the bacterium with a place to mate and provides a blood meal for the female tick prior to production of eggs. Research shows that reducing the deer population in an affected area to a level of 8 - 12 deer per square mile virtually eliminates ticks and Lyme Disease in humans.

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