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Wildlife Diseases

SARS-CoV-2 and White-Tailed Deer

Recently conducted research shows that SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19 in humans, is able to infect white-tailed deer.  Further evidence suggests that while deer do not appear to become sick or show clinical signs of disease when infected, SARS-CoV-2 may be transmitted from deer to deer.  There are currently no documented cases of humans becoming infected after contact with infected white-tailed deer and there is no evidence that humans can get COVID-19 by eating wild hunted game meat. While the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from deer to humans is unknown at this time, it is believed to be low.  Person-to-person transmission remains the greatest risk for spreading the virus.   The risk factors for virus spillover from humans to deer, or how deer are becoming exposed to the virus, have not yet been identified.

Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a laboratory setting showed that white-tailed deer are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and that infected deer are able to transmit the virus to other fawns.  Infected deer involved in this study showed little to no clinical signs of disease.  Additional information on this study can be found here.

A survey conducted by the USDA found that a small number of free-ranging white-tailed deer in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2.  Exposure was confirmed by detecting SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the blood of sampled deer.  Additional information on this study can be found here.

Other published research report SARS-CoV-2 infection in wild and captive deer from Iowa and wild deer from Ohio.  Additional information on the Iowa study can be found here and details on the Ohio study may be found here.

Hunters should continue to take standard precautions when field-dressing and processing harvested deer, regardless of concern over COVD-19 transmission.  More information on safe handling of wild game meat can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.  According to the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health, the best way to protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.  Information about COVID-19 vaccination can be found here.

Information on other wildlife diseases can be found by clicking on the links below.

2021 Bird Mortality Event

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus

White-Nose Syndrome in Bats

Wildlife Health Information for Permittees and Partners