What does deer infection mean for COVID’s future?

The virus that causes COVID-19 continues to appear in white-tailed deer, raising questions about how it may affect the future spread of the virus. Credit: Tony’s Takes

The virus that causes COVID-19 has spread throughout North American deer populations, but what the impacts may be for wildlife and for humans remains unclear. Hundreds of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) have been infected in 24 states and several Canadian provinces. Typically, the variants they carry mirror those in nearby humans, Nature writes, but some studies suggest the virus is mutating in wildlife hosts, raising concerns “about the animals becoming a viral reservoir, serving as a recalcitrant source of outbreaks and potentially breeding new variants. Some researchers think that the highly infectious Omicron variant spent time in an animal reservoir before popping up in people.”

It’s not clear how the virus is reaching the deer, which show few symptoms, and little evidence suggests they are spreading it back to humans, although at least one possible case has raised concerns. “There’s a window open somewhere and we have no idea what it is,” said Andrew Bowman, a veterinary epidemiologist at Ohio State University.

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