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Antibodies found in COVID-19-exposed white-tailed deer in 4 US states

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A recent research by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service detected COVID-19 exposure in white-tailed deer in four states.

The study found that 40% of the 385 samples tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

“Antibodies are the result of an immune response to infection with a pathogen, and their presence does not necessarily suggest a current infection. The tests used to analyze the deer serum samples in this study can only detect antibodies, not the virus itself,” the USDA specified. 

The USDA says samples came from animals in Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania between January 2020 and March 2021.

Additionally, the study highlighted that it is unknown how the deer were exposed to COVID-19 and that transmission from human to deer or vice versa was not ruled out, but the chances were slim, according to the USDA.

“It’s possible they were exposed through people, the environment, other deer, or another animal species,” the USDA said. 

“There is no evidence that animals, including deer, are playing a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to people,” the USDA added. 

Additionally, the researchers stated that there is no indication that deer infected with COVID-19 can transmit the virus to other animals or humans that consume their meat.

Further study is required to understand “how zoonotic pathogen spillback into novel wildlife reservoirs may affect pathogen adaptation, evolution, and transmission” of deadly viruses such as COVID-19, researchers said. 

“Future wildlife surveillance should incorporate methods specifically designed to detect, isolate, and genetically characterize SARS-CoV-2 and to identify potential variants, as well as other endemic coronaviruses,” the study concluded. 

In a separate previous study conducted in Aug. 2020, scientists found that white-tailed deer were among a number of animals at high risk for contacting COVID-19. 

In other studies done in Aug 2020, scientists discovered that white-tailed deer were among a handful of animals at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

“We identified a large number of mammals that can potentially be infected by SARS-CoV-2 via their ACE2 proteins. This can assist the identification of intermediate hosts for SARS-CoV-2 and hence reduce the opportunity for a future outbreak of COVID-19,” the researchers stated in the study. 

According to the study, the team from the University of California examined and forecasted the ability of the novel coronavirus to bind to the ACE2 receptors in 410 vertebrate species, including 252 mammals, 72 birds, 65 fish, four amphibians, and 17 reptiles.

“Only mammals fell into the medium to very high categories and only catarrhine primates into the very high category, suggesting that they are at high risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the study authors said in the published report. Catarrhine primates typically include orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees. 

Reindeer, white-tailed deer, Pacific white dolphins, beluga whales, chimps, Western lowland gorillas, and Rhesus macaques were among the creatures discovered to be at high risk.

Cats, goats, sheep, and cattle were deemed to be in the medium-risk group of 57 species, while dogs, horses, and pigs were among the 40 species judged to be in the low-risk group, according to the study.

Image Credit: Getty

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