A new study has found cases of COVID-19 spreading from deer to humans, and back, multiple times. The study, published Monday in the scientific journal Nature, revealed samples taken from deer showed mutated variants of COVID-19 spreading to humans, after humans spread the virus to deer. File photo by Julie Larsen Maher/WCS/UPI | License Photo
July 12 (UPI) -- A new study has found cases of COVID-19 spreading from deer to humans, and back, multiple times.
The study, published Monday in the scientific journal Nature, revealed samples taken from deer showed mutated variants of COVID-19 spreading to humans, after humans spread the virus to deer.
Of the 8,830 respiratory samples taken from free-ranging white-tailed deer in 26 states and Washington, D.C., between November 2021 and April 2022, researchers found 282 deer were infected with COVID-19.
The scientists, including some from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Agriculture, found that in at least 109 cases humans had spread the virus to the deer.
Additionally, there were at least 39 cases of deer-to-deer transmission and, more notably, three cases of deer-to-human transmission.
While researchers were able to track down the three people infected with COVID-19, none had reported being near deer prior to getting infected.
White-tailed deer are common in urban and rural areas throughout the country with an estimated population of 30 million, according to the study, which concluded that frequent introductions of new human viruses into white-tailed deer continue to occur.
While COVID-19 variants Alpha, Gamma and Delta were no longer circulating among humans as late as February, the variants continued to spread in white-tailed deer.
Researchers say other viruses can continue to persist in the deer population even after the variants have become rare in humans and are now calling for large-scale surveillance of white-tailed deer to determine whether the animal could be a potential reservoir for COVID-19 and how the mammal may have played a role in the ecology of the virus.
In separate research released Monday, scientists announced an new all-species test to detect the COVID-19 virus in any animal.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been detected in cats, dogs, rodents, deer and apes, among others, and can mutate leading to new variants.
The new test, supported by research and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, could help scientists keep track of animal populations and prevent future viral outbreaks.