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An animal-to-human COVID-19 transmission case was reported in Canada. Researchers found a white-tailed deer likely infected a human with the virus.
Experts have discovered a highly mutated sequence of SARS-CoV-2 genomes, emphasizing the possibility for deer to act as an animal reservoir for the virus, meaning the animal indefinitely has the virus and could keep passing it to humans.
The researchers’ preliminary analysis indicated that the mutations would not significantly impact the capability of COVID-19 vaccines to fight against this variant of the virus. However, they emphasized the need for supervision of the virus in white-tailed deer and other animals to determine reservoirs adept at driving the evolution and transmission of the virus. While previous studies indicated that COVID-19 could spread from humans to white-tailed deer and inside the deer populations, this is the first proof of spillover from deer to humans.
Previous studies showed that the virus is widely circulating in the North American white-tailed deer populations. However, before this latest information, the virus emerged similar to those uncovered in neighboring humans, suggesting that we made the white-tailed deer sick and not the other way around.
Scientists stressed that if the COVID-19 is unchecked among deer, this could lead to variants they would struggle to see coming. The New York Times reports:
Longer-term, widespread circulation of the virus in deer would give the virus more opportunity to mutate, potentially giving rise to new variants that could spill over into people or other animal species.
White-Tailed Deer Nose Swabs
Between November and December 2021, scientists took tissue and nose samples from 300 dead white-tailed deer in eastern and southwestern Ontario killed by hunters. These were tested as part of the surveillance program for wasting disease that kills deer and their relatives. Researchers found that 6% (17 of 298) animals tested positive for the coronavirus.
The results revealed that the older version of COVID, one that predated Delta and Omicron, has been spreading among the deer inhabitants for a long time. After that, researchers analyzed if the deer virus could sidestep the COVID vaccine and concluded that it would still deliver full coverage.
Mink and Hamster Cases
There were documented cases of humans sickened with COVID from farmed mink during the pandemic. An incident in which a Hong Kong pet shop employee acquired the virus from a hamster. This occurrence led to the killing of all hamsters in that shop. Contrary to these isolated instances, it is more challenging to detect and control the transmission between white-tailed deer and humans.
USDA investigators speculate that the white-tailed deer could have been infected through infected wastewater or exposure to infected mink.
As yet, this appears to be an isolated case. Researchers found proof of other human cases from this genealogy. While the spread to humans is raising a red flag, it does not seem alarming at this time.
Canada’s public health agency recommends taking precautionary actions to prevent the potential spread of the virus until they know more. However, researchers still assume that transmitting the coronavirus between people is much higher than acquiring the virus from a white-tailed deer.
Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
National Geographic: A deer may have passed COVID-19 to a person, study suggests; Dina Fine Maron
Deseret News: Possible deer-to-human COVID-19 case reported in Canada; Herb Scribner
LiveScience: 1st possible case of deer-to-human COVID-19 transmission reported; Rachael Rettner
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of ellenm1’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Yuri Samoilov’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License