Omicron variant appears in deer

White-tailed deer on Staten Island have tested positive for the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. Credit: The Turducken

White-tailed deer on Staten Island have tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. It’s the first time the highly-contagious variant has been detected in wildlife and suggests the deer caught the virus from infected people nearby.

The discovery “highlights an urgent need for comprehensive surveillance of susceptible animal species to identify ecological transmission networks and better assess the potential risks of spillback to humans,” the authors wrote.

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) earlier tested positive for previous variants of SARS-CoV-2, which were widespread among people living nearby when the studies were conducted.

In the latest study, available in preprint, led by Pennsylvania State University researchers, 19 out of 131 deer sampled on Staten Island, New York, in December and January tested positive of the Omicron variant. Yearling were much more likely than fawns to be affected.

The Omicron variant’s “ability to cause infection and spillover to non-human animals remains a challenge of concern,” the authors wrote.

Read more in the New York Times, and read the preprint study here.