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80% of Deer in One Study Tests Positive for COVID-19, Raising Concerns to the Emergence of New Strains

Penn State University researchers tested white-tailed deer in different parts of Iowa from December 2020 until January 2021. They found that 80% of them were positive of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These findings suggest that they could be a reservoir for the coronavirus, which also raises concerns about the emergence of new strains.

White-tailed deer

Sinaloa White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus ssp. sinaloae) (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

SARS-CoV-2 Lineages in Deer Also Found in Humans

Study author Suresh Kuchipudi said in the university’s press release that their study is the first evidence of the SARS-CoV-2 in a free-living species, which plies the ecology and long-term persistence of the virus. 

Although there is no evidence that the virus from the deer can be transmitted to humans, study author Vivek Kapur said that hunters and those living close to a deer should still take precautions to avoid the possibility of getting infected by the virus.

Furthermore, the team found a dozen different SARS-CoV-2 lineages in their sample in which the most common was also the most common among the strains that infected the residents in Iowa at the same time. But since genome sequencing in humans was not yet common at the time, authors said that the results only represent a small sample of both populations.

Kapur noted that these findings showed that SARS-CoV-2 lineages circulating within the state occurred from multiple independent spillover events from humans to deers and followed by deer-to-deer transmission.

White-Tailed Deer Could Serve as a Reservoir

According to an article in Forbes, the findings suggest that the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) could serve as a reservoir for the SARS-CoV-2. The animal is common in North America and could be a part of the cycle of the virus.

That means SARS-CoV-2 could find its way back to humans and can be transmitted to other animals. Researchers said that planning intervention in controlling transmission of the virus should also put into consideration the animals to stop the virus and end the pandemic.