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40% of deer carry COVID antibodies – study

SARS-CoV-2 antibodies are present in 40% of white-tailed deer from four US states, a new study has found, suggesting that the deer in these areas had been exposed to the virus. The study has not been peer-reviewed yet.

Antibodies to the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease in humans, SARS-CoV-2, were found in 40% of white-tailed deer across four US states, according to a new study. 

The deer were chosen because they are often in close proximity to urban areas and also have a receptor named ACE2, which is the molecular foothold through which the virus enters human bodies.

The study was carried out by researchers from the National Wildlife Research Center, part of the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA).

The researchers analyzed serum samples taken from 385 white-tailed deer from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, and New York. Out of 154 deer, nearly 40%, were found to have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

The first traces of the antibodies appeared in January 2020, which corresponded to the beginning of the virus’ spread to the US.

The presence of antibodies does not necessarily mean that the deer had contracted the virus, or that they could pass it to humans.  

Additional studies would need to be carried out to search for viral RNA in order to determine this.

Still, the researchers recommend taking extra precautions against touching or approaching wildlife.

The researchers are also worried that if the virus is indeed found in the deer’s bodies, it may cause new mutations to emerge that can make their way back to humans. 
SARS-CoV-2 can infect multiple domestic and wild animal species, but as of yet the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not conducted widespread testing of wildlife, for lack of precise data and scientific research.

Studies conducted until now have shown that some small mammals such as deer-mice and skunks can contract the virus, and some such as minks can infect humans, according to the Philadelphia Inquiry. However, other species in the same circumstances could not spread the virus.

Once peer-reviewed, the study could encourage additional research of its kind that may broaden scientists’ understanding of the virus, the researchers hope.




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