SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, has been found in white-tailed deer, according to new research from the United States. Antibodies were discovered in 40% of deer examined in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York between January and March 2021. In a second, unpublished investigation, the virus was found in 80% of deer samples collected in Iowa between November 2020 and January 2021.
The fast spread of the disease in white-tailed deer populations across the United States is thought to be due to human-to-deer and deer-to-deer transmission. This was especially evident in the early months of 2021, when COVID infections in humans were at an all-time high. SARS-CoV-2 has been demonstrated in previous research to be transmitted from humans to domestic and captive animals such as cats, dogs, zoo animals, and, most notably, farmed mink. However, the disease had never been seen to spread in wildlife until today.
With a range that stretches from Canada to South America, white-tailed deer are the most common big animal in North America. It is believed that there are 30 million animals in the United States alone. They are a gregarious species that lives in family groups of two to twelve people and may survive in a variety of environments, including urban parks and woods.
The findings of this recent research have sparked fears that white-tailed deer could be a SARS-CoV-2 reservoir. Workers on infected mink farms experienced this type of infection cycle, which led to the Danish government euthanizing the whole captive population of 17 million animals. It’s worth noting that there’s no evidence of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from white-tailed deer to people right now.
It’s crucial to highlight that these studies have limitations, both in terms of the methodology used and the geographical scope of the research. The most recent, unpublished study focused primarily on deer in Iowa and used the most up-to-date genetic techniques to consistently detect SARS-CoV-2 in tissue samples. The antibody tests in the initial study were done in four states, but they simply showed that the animal had been exposed to the virus. Nonetheless, the findings show that SARS-CoV-2 transmission is likely to be prevalent in white-tailed dees.