(WGHP) — COVID-19 infections have been detected in white-tailed deer by researchers, which could make ending the pandemic more complicated.
Ohio State University researchers detected at least three separate strains of COVID-19 when they took nasal swabs from 360 wild white-tailed deer across nine different areas in Northeast Ohio, according to a study published in Nature last month.
The swabs were taken between January and March of 2021 when the US was seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases.
The three different strains of COVID-19 were detected in 35% of the deer sampled. That means 129 deer had active cases of the virus or had been previously infected.
Previous research also found evidence of coronavirus infections in white-tailed deer in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.
Researchers are saying that if the virus circulates among the deer population, humans could be at risk.
There have been no reported cases of a human catching COVID-19 from a deer.
The fact that wild deer can contract COVID-19 “leads toward the idea that we might actually have established a new maintenance host outside humans,” said Andrew Bowman, the study’s author and professor of veterinary preventive medicine at The Ohio State University.
Measures to end the pandemic could be complicated if deer become a viral reservoir for the virus. Bowman said that if the virus mutates in deer, new strains could possibly spread to humans.
“And if they can maintain it, we have a new potential source of SARS-CoV-2 coming into humans. That would mean that beyond tracking what’s in people, we’ll need to know what’s in the deer, too,” Bowman said.
Researchers aren’t sure at this time how the deer got infected or exactly how COVID-19 behaves in their bodies.