According to current research, the coronavirus is ubiquitous among white-tailed deer in Iowa. Researchers from Penn State University and Iowa wildlife officials discovered that almost 80% of deer in their samples tested positive for the virus, indicating that it is fast spreading. That applies to tests taken between April 2020 and January 2021.
The findings, according to the researchers, demonstrate the necessity for a “strong and proactive” approach to understanding the virus’s ecology and evolution.
“In theory, SARS-CoV-2 infection of an animal host might result in it becoming a reservoir, driving the generation of novel variations with the danger of spillover to people,” according to the study.
The news comes just days before the start of Minnesota’s deer shooting season. Dr. Jeff Bender, a veterinarian who teaches at the University of Minnesota and researches viral diseases in animals, advised hunters in the area to take standard measures.
Hand washing, fully cooking meat, and using gloves when processing an animal are all common safety precautions.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is not conducting COVID research in deer, according to an email from a spokeswoman, but it is enabling the University of Minnesota to gather samples for examination at locations that are currently testing for Chronic Wasting Disease in the animals.
Bender, on the other hand, said the extent of COVID’s spread in deer was unexpected.
Bender told WCCO that interest in researching — and anxiety about — “spillover” of the virus to animals isn’t new. He cited research on mink infections that show transfer from mink to humans, however, he said there isn’t enough evidence to prove the animals are the source of widespread infection in humans.
Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Hunters Association, which has 20,000 members, is more concerned about the spread of the contagious brain condition known as CWD. He invites hunters to give samples in regions where monitoring is being conducted.
The deer shooting season in Minnesota begins on Saturday.