Deer Are Catching COVID at a ‘Stunning’ Rate, New Study Shows

by Chase Thomas

A new study was released that found deer are catching COVID at an alarming rate. Indeed, the study looked at 93 deceased deer from the months of October to December in the state of Pennsylvania. What they found, though, was that over a fifth of the deer swabbed tested positive for COVID. Even more interesting, the study found that one of the deer may have infected another human later on.

What Did The Study Find?

What stood out to the students who conducted the study was the rate at which the deceased deer had contracted COVID. Especially in that three-month timespan. Andrew Marques, one of the students who spoke to NPR about the study said, “These are deer that died with COVID.” He continued, “These aren’t deer that died from COVID.” This was a fundamental difference. The deer died from other causes. Some were hit by a vehicle. However, it was the 20 percent infection rate that stood out to the students. In Pennsylvania, the positive test rate right now is around 3 percent, NPR notes.

Deer Catching COVID Study Findings

Another element of the study that made cause for concern was the mutations aspect. Marques added, “Some of these people [might] play really important roles in the parade.” He continued, “And by changing those people, that can change the ways the parade moves, the way that the parade sounds. And we can think of that as an analogy of the virus where [a relatively small number of mutations] changes the way that the virus might spread.”

This study and the white-tailed deer bring about a new way of thinking. Especially about how the virus might potentially spread in the future. He continued, “This one is from an even older lineage, so probably spilled over into deer at some point in 2020, maybe early 2021.” These virus spillovers into other mammals could have a lasting impact on the virus going forward and how it mutates and stays around in society.

He continued, “That predates any of the variants of concern — delta, omicron, even alpha. Because this strain had presumably been circulating among the deer for so long, it had time to accumulate 76 mutations, 23 of which had not previously been reported in deer.”

What Does This Mean?

It could mean a lot of different things going forward. What the students found was a big finding, especially in understanding how the virus spreads among mammals. The disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies said, “I can’t think of a single zoonotic disease that has established in an animal reservoir in the wild that we have been successful at eradicating.” This might mean fully eradicating COVID is going to be a tough task. Now and in the future.