Your eyes, unfortunately, do not deceive you. According to researchers, COVID-19 has hit even our secluded woodlands. A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has detected antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 in deer populations across four states. While this is, of course, eye-catching news, there may not be reason to fret too much. Though the deer have presented with antibodies, it does not appear any have presented with symptoms, meaning they are likely highly resilient to the disease.
This is not the first example of COVID-19 presenting in animals. Studies on captive whitetails found that the animals can contract and spread the virus in laboratory environments. This is, however, the first positive confirmation of wild transmission. Previously, the disease had been found in a range of zoo animals–such as gorillas and the Bronx zoo tigers–and house animals like cats and dogs, but whitetails join mink as the only animal to have contracted it in the wild.
According to National Geographic, 624 deer across Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York were tested both pre- and post-pandemic. An analysis of 385 blood samples collected at the beginning months of this year (2021) indicated 152 deer (40%) possessed the appropriate antibodies. The highest percentage of these were found in Michigan, where somewhere around 67 percent of 113 samples showed infection. In comparison, Illinois saw seven percent of its 101 samples test positive, New York saw 19 percent of 68, and Pennsylvania logged 31 percent of 199. As to how the deer are getting it, the answer is still unclear. Researchers currently have several theories, including that transmission could have occurred from other animals in the wild, contaminated wastewater, or even from humans.
“Given the percentage of samples in this study that had detectable antibodies, as well as the high numbers of white-tailed deer throughout the United States and their close contact with people, it is likely that deer in other states have also been exposed to the virus,” a USDA spokesperson told Nature magazine.
For more details, check out the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website.
A humble homesteader based in an undisclosed location, Lars Drecker splits his time between tending his little slice of self-sustaining heaven, and bothering his neighbors to do his work for him. This is mainly the fault of a debilitating predilection for fishing, hunting, camping and all other things outdoors. When not engaged in any of the above activities, you can normally find him broken down on the side of the road, in some piece of junk he just “fixed-up.”