Another study of white-tailed deer suggests that the North American population is home to a widespread coronavirus infection.
As much as 80% of the 445,000 strong Iowa deer population can carry the disease, according to a new study, The Times reported Tuesday.
This rate of infection was said to be “effectively 50 times” more prevalent in deer than Iowa’s human population.
The pre-print report, which is now awaiting review by scientific peers before publication, showed that deer may have collected the virus from humans sometime during the test period, between April 2020 and January 2021, although Penn State researchers are not aware of how cross-transmission could have taken place.
Their samples were derived from both road kill and deer felled by hunters. An analysis of their lymph nodes reflected a genomic sequencing that suggested that the virus had first traveled through humans before infecting the deer.
Conversely, there is as yet no evidence to suggest that humans got the virus from deer.
However, the presence of coronavirus in animals may inhibit efforts to eradicate the disease from nature – meaning that the elimination of COVID-19 in humans would not necessarily be sufficient to prevent another outbreak.
Researchers and Iowa wildlife officials are sounding the alarm, especially for deer hunters and other pet dealers, warning them to take extreme precautions with the animal in the wild.
A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service released in August indicated a high level of antibodies in deer in a number of states, including Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan and New York – confirming that they had been exposed to the virus at . some point. However, the new report confirms infection.
“It effectively appeared in all parts of the state,” said Dr. Suresh Kuchipudi, Penn State Research. “We were amazed.”
A spokesman for the National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the results of the new study to The Times.
It comes as no surprise that deer are susceptible to coronavirus, as many other animals are documented channels for the disease, including bats, cats, dogs, ferrets, monkeys and mink – the latter of which are known to be infected with SARS-CoV2, virus that causes COVID-19 disease, by interacting with sick human handlers, as well as passing this infection back to humans. As a result, millions in Denmark were shut down to prevent further spread between species.
Fetured in animal populations, the virus can become stronger over time, scientists have said, leading to potentially new, aggressive strains.