A Wilder View: COVID-19 found in wildlife

White Tail Deer
Posted at 8:22 AM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 10:22:07-04

MISSOULA — Researchers have found what they say is the first detection of extensive exposure to coronavirus in wildlife.

It’s not uncommon for us to see a deer crossing the street or in our backyard as white-tailed deer are abundant throughout the US -- particularly near urban areas.

New research has found that one-third of white-tailed deer in the northeastern United States have antibodies against COVID-19.

We already know that COVID-19 can infect wildlife as well as domestic species. The possibility exists for the rise of wildlife to be a host for the virus where it can mutate and evolve, meaning rarer forms of the virus could form.

This makes wildlife that are large in number and live close to people create the likelihood for the virus to spread from people to wild animals.

The researchers say this is the first detection of extensive exposure to the virus in wildlife. These results from a glance are concerning but much more studies are necessary to find out if deer can infect each other and other species.

What researchers now want to know is how coronavirus was spread to the deer and they also want to know if the virus will spread from infected deer to other wildlife or to domestic animals like cattle.

Since deer live in groups this means coronavirus has the potential to spread naturally to individuals in the herd. It is also important to note that the researchers did not find the deer tested showed signs of being sick.

With a considerable amount of infections in people combined with susceptible wildlife hosts many scientists have pushed for more testing of wildlife.

If the virus is transferring from people to wildlife this could lead to a novel mutation of the virus which poses a risk to both people and wildlife health. Continuous infections in a novel host could lead to vaccine escape.

Right now, the biggest mystery is how the deer got coronavirus in the first place. Was it through people, water or other animals? There are still many vital questions that we will have to wait and see as more research progresses.

The researchers who tested the deer advised for the close observation of predators and scavengers that have a high chance of interacting with deer.