In a new study from The Ohio State University, researchers found infection by at least three variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 in free-ranging white-tailed deer in six Northeast Ohio locations.
Previous research led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture had shown evidence of antibodies in wild deer.
Based on genomic sequencing of the samples collected between January and March 2021, researchers determined that variants infecting wild deer matched strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that had been prevalent in Ohio COVID-19 patients at the time.
Sample collection occurred before the Delta variant was widespread, and that variant was not detected in these deer.
The team is testing more samples to check for new variants as well as older variants, whose continued presence would suggest the virus can set up shop and survive in this species.
A lot of unknowns remain: how the deer got infected, whether they can infect humans and other species, how the virus behaves in the animals’ body, and whether it’s a transient or long-term infection.
In the study, the research team took nasal swabs from 360 white-tailed deer in nine northeast Ohio locations.
Using PCR testing methods, the scientists detected genetic material from at least three different strains of the virus in 129 (35.8%) of the deer sampled.
The analysis showed that B.1.2 viruses dominant in Ohio in the early months of 2021 spilled over multiple times into deer populations in different locations.
Each site was sampled between one and three times, adding up to a total of 18 sample collection dates.
Based on the findings, researchers estimated the prevalence of infection varied from 13.5% to 70% across the nine sites, with the highest prevalence observed in four sites that were surrounded by more densely populated neighborhoods.
White-tailed deer functioning as a viral reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 would likely result in one of two outcomes.
The virus could mutate in deer, potentially facilitating transmission of new strains to other species, including humans, or the virus could survive in deer unmutated while it simultaneously continues to evolve in humans, and at some point when humans don’t have immunity to the strains infecting deer, those variants could come spilling back to humans.
How transmission happened initially in these deer, and how it could happen across species, are among the pending questions related to these findings.
If you care about COVID, please read studies about why do we keep getting new coronavirus variants, and why a drug used to treat severe COVID-19 may only benefit men.
For more information about Covid, please see recent studies about drug that could help treat lung damage in COVID-19, and results showing that BMI number linked to risks of death and ICU stay in COVID-19.
The study is published in Nature. One author of the study is Andrew Bowman.
Copyright © 2022 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.