Researchers Find Possible ‘First Evidence’ of Deer-to-Human COVID Transmission

by Thad Mitchell

As the deadly COVID-19 pandemic continues wreaking havoc around the world, researchers believe they’ve found evidence of deer-to-human transmission.

The discovering researchers hail from our neighbor to the north, Canada. They believe the Omicron variant of the virus has spread from a white-tailed deer to a human, according to a Fox News Report.

In a study that was put out last week on bioRxiv, the researchers say that through a “multidisciplinary research collaboration for SARS-CoV-2 surveillance in Canadian wildlife,” they had identified a new and “highly divergent lineage” of the deadly virus. Previously, U.S, scientists conducting studies in New York say they discovered white-tailed deer with Omicron variant. Now, Canadian researchers believe animal to human transmission is possible.

“This lineage has 76 consensus mutations including 37 previously associated with non-human animal hosts, 23 of which were not previously reported in deer,” Canadian COVID research reveals. “There were also mutational signatures of host adaptation under neutral selection. Phylogenetic analysis revealed an epidemiologically linked human case from the same geographic region and sampling period. Together, our findings represent the first evidence of a highly divergent lineage of SARS-CoV-2 in white-tailed deer and of deer-to-human transmission.”

The report states samples from hundreds of white-tailed deer from southwestern and eastern Ontario during the 2021 hunting season. Nasal swabs and tissue from retropharyngeal lymph nodes were test for the presence of COVID.

One of the study’s authors, Finlay Maguire, notes that recent samples are much different than previous samples.

“Interestingly, the closest relatives to the deer were human and mink-derived samples from nearby Michigan back in 2020,” the researcher says. “We also identified a single human case that was very similar to our deer samples.”

COVID Researchers Believe Deer Can Spread Virus to Human

New evidence suggesting deer can spread COVID to humans is quite alarming. Humans can spread the deadly virus to deer — but not the other way around. Researchers are now concerned that wild animals could become a source of new variants. There is also concern that they could act as a reservoir for SARS-CoV-2.

While it is a significant finding, Maguire says it isn’t time to panic.

“This particular case, while raising a red flag, doesn’t seem to be hugely alarming,” he says in a recent interview. “While we haven’t seen [transmission from deer to human] happen directly, we sampled from the human case around the same time we sampled from the deer, and we sampled from around the same location.”

Maguire, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University, says one of the biggest takeaways is a need for greater COVID surveillance. He states greater surveillance needs not just in humans, but also in animals, plants and the wider environment.