A federal study in four states found that a third of white-tailed deer have coronavirus antibodies, indicating the first evidence of widespread exposure to wildlife.
In the state of Michigan alone, 67 percent of free-ranging deer showed immune markers for the coronavirus in their bloodwork. Other states involved in the study include Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania.
While the study does not indicate disease or adverse health effects in the deer, the presence of specific antibodies suggests they recently fought off the virus.
The virus has shown it can jump from one species to another, and in the worse case, it could become established in a common animal species, creating a reservoir from which the virus could spill back into humans. The worry among scientists is that the virus could adapt and evolve into new strains – ones that could possibly re-infect humans years down the road with even greater transmissibility and severity than before.
The findings could make eradication extremely difficult.
White-tailed deer are abundant in urban areas in the northeast, and common throughout North America. Deer cross paths with humans in fieldwork, conservation work, feeding, hunting, and human wastewater.
The study has not yet been peer-reviewed and published.