Unexpected New Kovid Concern: Deer

(Reporter)
– New study throws COVID curveball: It seems that a surprisingly high number of white-tailed deer have the infection. And although the deer don’t seem to get sick, they could function as a “reservoir” in which the virus can lurk, mutate and possibly jump back to humans, reports NPR. The result of the discovery is that this could make it difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate the virus altogether. The researchers tested nearly 300 wild deer (including road kill and those shot down by hunters) in Iowa last year, and the results were “actually pretty amazing for us,” says co-author Vivek Kapur of Penn State.

In the first months of testing, about 30% of deer were positive. And during the winter of 2020, the figure rose to 80%, meaning the prevalence of the virus in deer was up to 100 times greater than that of Iowa residents at the time. While the study was limited to Iowa, researchers say the results are likely to apply to deer populations throughout the United States, according to the curator. The scientists say the deer probably caught the virus due to exposure to humans, although as is unclear, reports the Duluth News Tribune. One possibility is encountering human fluids, possibly the urine of hunters or migrants. “Right now that’s really the million-dollar question — how they’re exposed,” says another co-author, Rachel Ruden of Iowa State.

What is clear, however, is that once the virus appears in the deer population, it spreads rapidly. Thus, the concern: “If the virus has chances to find an alternate host besides humans that we would call a reservoir, that will create a safe haven where the virus can continue to circulate even if the entire human population becomes immune,” he says. Suresh Kuchipudi at Penn State. This “reservoir” also increases the risk of mutation of the virus. “Now the question is: Can the virus flow back from deer to humans?” asks virologist Linda Saif of Ohio State University. “Or can deer transmit the virus effectively to grazing livestock? We still don’t know the answers to those questions, but if they’re true, they’re obviously concerned.” (Read more stories about COVID-19.)

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