This research has yet to be peer-reviewed but was released in preprintOn Monday, 12 strains of SARS CoV-2 were found in approximately one-third (or 283) of the 283 state-tested deer.
After the initial testing period, it appears that the disease spread quickly. Further testing was performed between November 2020 and January 2021, with positive results for 82.5% out of the 97 tested deer.
“It was effectively showing up in all parts of the state,” Dr”We were dumbfounded.” Suresh Kuchipudi a veterinary microbiologist at Penn State who co-authored the study told The New York Times. “We were dumbfounded.”
Kuchipudi and his colleague Dr. Vivek Kapur said it’s reasonable to assume other states with dense deer populations are seeing similar rates of transmission.
While we’ve known for some time that SARS-CoV-2 can infect a wide range of other species including dogs, cats, lions, tigers, gorillas otters, so far, widespread infection of a non-captive animal population like deer hadn’t been documented until now.
“Our study is the first to provide evidence of widespread dissemination of SARS-CoV-2 into any free-living species, in this case, white tailed deer,” the report reads. “Our results suggest that deer have the potential to emerge as a major reservoir host for SARS-CoV-2, a finding that has important implications for the virus genomic diversity and future trajectory of the pandemic.”
Tyler Harms is a spokesperson of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Des Moines’ CBS affiliate it appears the deer are getting sick from humans; so far, it hasn’t been the other way around.
With deer hunting season underway, that’s a critically important distinction. Harms said the state is recommending hunters wear masks and gloves if they are in close physical contact with deer, and that meat be cooked to an appropriate temperature before it’s consumed.
COVID-19 has been feared by scientists for being a reservoir animal from which other variants could be reemerged and potentially infect humans in the near future.
The estimated 30 million white-tailed deer distributed throughout the continental U.S., and their penchant for living in close proximity to humans, the authors conclude that’s a very real concern and merits closer surveillance.