ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A new study finds that COVID-19 was detected in 40% of white-tailed deer sampled in four states in 2021. The results were published in bioRxiv, operated by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The study was also cited in the journal Nature.
The deer have antibodies against the disease which is an indicator that they have been infected. This is the first detection of widespread exposure to the virus in a population of wild animals.
It is not clear how the deer were exposed to the virus. The deer may have had contact with people during hunting, research, or conservation work. Contaminated water may also be a transmission route for the virus. The study states that other infected animal species cannot be discounted as a possible source of the infection.
The emergence of the virus in a widespread animal population is concerning. Will this lead to more variants? Can the deer infect people? More studies are needed to see if deer can infect each other and other species in the wild.
The samples were taken between January and March 2021 in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York state.