Can deer infected with COVID-19 pose a risk to human health?

White tailed deer feed on a hillside overlooking the Missouri River south of Great Falls on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

Several studies of free-ranging, white-tail deer in the upper mid-west and on the east coast have found that roughly a third of all animals tested have been infected by the COVID-19 virus.

Last August investigators with the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that serum samples taken from white-tail deer populations in Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania all contained anti-bodies showing they’ d been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus was most common in white-tail deer populations in Michigan, where 67% of all test samples detected COVID-19 antibodies.

A similar study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University yielded comparable results, where 94 of the 283 white-tailed deer tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. The Penn State study focused upon both free-ranging and captive white-tail deer in Iowa, and was conducted between September 2020 and January 2021.

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