THURSDAY, 4 Nov. 2021 (HealthDay News) – The discovery that up to 80% of white-tailed goats in Iowa could be infected with COVID-19 has scientists worried that the animals could become a reservoir for variants that could return to haunt humans.
In the new study, samples were collected lymph node samples from hundreds of dead deer across the state from April 2020 to January 2021. The researchers believe it is likely that the virus is spreading rapidly among the deer, The New York Times reported.
There is no evidence of deer-to-human infection, but Penn State University writers and Iowa wildlife officials warn deer and others who have contact with deer to take precautions.
The veterinary microbiologists who led the study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, said they were shocked to find such a widespread infection in deer.
“It has appeared effectively in all parts of the state,” researcher Suresh Kuchipudi told the Times. “We were stunned.”
“There is no reason to believe that the same thing does not happen in other states where deer are present,” said researcher Vivek Kapur.
If the virus were to become widespread in deer and other wildlife, there is a chance that it could eventually turn into a new variant that can be transmitted to humans and is resistant to existing vaccines, experts warned.
“If deer can transmit the virus to humans, it’s a game-changer,” Tony Goldberg, a veterinarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies the evolution of infectious diseases as they move between animals and humans, told the Times.
“Making a game species a reservoir after human transfer is very rare and unfortunate, as if we need more misfortune,” added Goldberg, who was not involved in the study.
Previous studies have found a number of other animals are susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These include ferrets and primates that were deliberately infected in laboratory experiments, zoo animals that contracted the virus from their handlers, and mink that became ill after being exposed to the pathogen by farm workers.
In the case of mink, Denmark slaughtered its entire population of 17 million cultivated mink after scientists discovered that they could return the virus to humans. The virus also picked up mutations after infecting the mink, but officials said no one was worried.
Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information COVID infections in animals.
SOURCE: The New York Times