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COVID Spread Among Deer Causes Concern Over New Variants

November 17, 2021 – Growing reports that white-tailed deer have been infected with coronavuris, as well as persistent infections and illnesses in zoo animals and pets, raise concerns that the animals may become reservoirs for the development of new variants or even direct transmission from animals to humans.

So far, mostly humans have infected animals, although sometimes the cause is unknown.

Three snow leopards at Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska recently died from complications from COVID-19. Two of the zoo’s tigers also caught the virus in October but have since recovered.

The same thing happened at the Washington, DC National Zoo in September, when six African lions, one Sumatran tiger, and two Amur tigers tested positive for COVID-19. Zoo staff could not identify the source of the infections.

In July, the US Department of Agriculture reported that antibodies to the coronavirus had been detected in white-tailed deer in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.

The agency also reported in August that its sampling found an actual virus in deer in Ohio.

More recently, researchers at Penn State University published a preprinted study in November showing that an increasing number of deer in Iowa had tested positive, most likely reflecting human-to-deer and deer-to-deer transmission. stag.

Humans infect animals

Humans are the suspected vectors of infection among deer, says Angela Bosco-Lauth, PhD, DVM, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

But go the other way – deer infecting humans is less likely, she says. “The likelihood of a human contracting it from a deer they just killed is pretty minimal,” says Bosco-Lauth.

However, that cannot be ruled out entirely, she says.

With this coronavirus, “what we’re seeing is pretty unprecedented in history,” says Bosco-Lauth, noting the massive number of infections around the world.

What is more concerning is the possibility of a new variant coming, especially from domestic and farm animals, she says. “We have seen with Delta and other variants that mutations arise quite easily and adapt to the host.”

Bosco-Lauth and his colleagues recently conducted experiments with cats, dogs, hamsters and a ferret to trace the evolution of the coronavirus in these animals. They found that the virus changed rapidly in host animals, especially cats and dogs.

The authors suggested in their article, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that the evolution of the coronavirus in companion animals and other potential host animals should be closely monitored.

Since cats appear to be particularly susceptible to COVID-19 infection and live in close proximity to humans, “this seems to be a more likely place where you could see human-animal transmission and potentially variants resulting from this transmission. “, says Bosco-Lauth.

The CDC says humans can spread COVID-19 to animals, including pets, farm animals such as mink and zoo animals, but the agency

points out that there is still no evidence that COVID-19 can spread from animals to humans, with the exception of farmed mink.

Denmark slaughtered millions of mink in 2020 to prevent a mutation that occurred after human-to-animal and animal-to-human transmission. The country further incinerated 4 million of those slaughtered mink after they began resurfacing from mass burial sites earlier this year.

Shrewd hunters to be careful

Coronavirus is not transmitted through blood – it’s a respiratory disease – and there’s no evidence anyone can get sick from eating deer meat, but some states tell hunters to take precautions extra when dressing the white-tailed deer.

Most recommend that hunters follow CDC guidelines for handling wild game, which include:

  • Do not harvest animals that appear sick or have been found dead.
  • Avoid cutting through the spine and spinal tissue.
  • Do not eat the brain of any wild animal.
  • Wear rubber or disposable gloves.

Wisconsin has suggested hunters wear masks and also advises hunters to limit manipulation or incision of the lungs, throat, and mouth / nasal cavity.

Massachusetts recommends a face shield in addition to CDC guidelines. A Rhode Island state wildlife biologist told the Journal of Providence that he would advise wearing a mask when dressing deer.

A quick survey of state hunting guidelines shows most recommend a COVID-19 vaccine as the best way to protect against potential infection, even from animal sources.

Extra precautions are never advised against, says Bosco-Lauth, adding that it is “a good idea to wear a mask to prevent other potential pathogens besides SARS-CoV-2.”

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