COVID-19 Possibly Transmitted between Humans and Deer

COVID-19 Possibly Transmitted between Humans and Deer

Ongoing Interaction between Humans and Deer: A Source of Concern for COVID-19 Variants

Deer and COVID-19 Photo Credit: HealthDay Reporter

Do deer and humans play a game of COVID-19 ping-pong? Recent research suggests that humans and deer have been passing the coronavirus back and forth, raising concerns about the potential for these animals to become a source of new variants. Not only can this animal reservoir facilitate the virus’s mutation, potentially leading to new variants that can infect humans, but it can also sustain the spread of variants that have slowed down among people. Let’s explore these findings and their implications further.

This intriguing study, led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), reveals a series of interchanges between humans and deer during late 2021 and early 2022. The research indicates that humans transmitted the virus to deer over 100 times during this period, while deer transmitted it back to humans at least three times. This bidirectional transmission raises red flags about the possible role of deer as a reservoir for the virus.

The interaction between deer and humans is not surprising, given that deer frequently cross paths with us, often lingering near our homes, pets, wastewater, and trash. Dr. Xiu-Feng Wan, an expert on zoonotic diseases at the University of Missouri and one of the study’s authors, emphasizes the unique public health risks posed by the persistence and evolution of zoonotic diseases like SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife populations.

To unravel the intricacies of this phenomenon, a collaboration of scientists from APHIS, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the University of Missouri collected over 11,000 samples from deer across 26 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. between November 2021 and April 2022. Among the nearly 400 samples sequenced, the researchers identified various COVID-19 variants, including Alpha, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron.

An intriguing finding emerged from the study: one-third of the deer had coronavirus antibodies, indicating prior infections. Furthermore, approximately 12% of the deer carried active infections. These numbers offer a glimpse into the prevalence of the virus among deer populations and highlight the ongoing transmission dynamics between deer and humans.

By comparing the genetic sequences of deer and human samples, the scientists mapped their paths and observed humans transmitting the virus to deer a startling 109 times. Additionally, cases in North Carolina and Massachusetts provided evidence that humans contracted “deer-adapted” versions of the virus, further highlighting the intricate interplay between humans and deer.

The implications of these findings are substantial. The continuous interaction between humans and deer presents a potential breeding ground for new virus variants. Furthermore, if variants circulating among humans slow down, these variants could persist and proliferate within deer populations, creating an ongoing threat. This ongoing viral exchange not only carries implications for public health but also illustrates the complex interconnectedness between humans and wildlife.

Published on July 10, 2023, in the journal Nature Communications, this study sheds light on the ongoing interaction between humans and deer. It provides valuable insights into their role as carriers and transmitters of the coronavirus, emphasising the need to monitor and understand zoonotic disease dynamics.

To mitigate the potential risks associated with this ongoing animal-human transmission, it is crucial to implement proactive measures. These might include:

  1. Educational Campaigns: Raising public awareness about the risks of interacting closely with wildlife, especially in regions with high deer populations, can help mitigate the spread of zoonotic diseases.

  2. Enhanced Surveillance: Strengthening surveillance systems to monitor the health status of deer populations can provide early warning signs of potential disease outbreaks and support rapid response measures.

  3. Improved Waste Management: Proper waste management practices, such as securing trash and minimizing attractants, can reduce contact opportunities between humans and wildlife.

  4. Collaborative Research: Encouraging multidisciplinary research collaborations between wildlife experts, virologists, and public health agencies can help deepen our understanding of zoonotic disease transmission and inform targeted intervention strategies.

While this study reveals intriguing insights into the ongoing interplay between humans and deer in the context of COVID-19, additional research is needed to better understand the extent of this phenomenon, its impact on viral transmission dynamics, and potential implications for human health. By staying alert to such research, we can adapt our strategies to prevent future epidemics and protect human and animal well-being.

Sources: – The New York Times, July 11, 2023 – Nature Communications, July 10, 2023

More Information: For further information on COVID-19, visit the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).