A pair of new studies suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may be circulating and evolving among white-tailed deer in North America, the New York Times reports.
In one new study, the Times notes that a team of researchers in Canada collected nasal swabs and other samples from 300 white-tailed deer from southwestern and eastern Ontario killed by hunters during the hunting season. As they report in a preprint posted to BioRxiv, they uncovered a new, divergent SARS-CoV-2 lineage with 76 consensus mutations among the deer. A similar variant, they found, was also reported in a person in the area during that time, hinting at possible deer-to-human transmission.
In a separate in a MedRxiv preprint, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania report that even though the Alpha SARS-CoV-2 variant has largely been replaced in human populations, it is present among deer in Pennsylvania, where it continues to evolve.
These studies together raise concerns that white-tailed deer could become a reservoir of the virus and new variants, the Times says. Jeff Bowman, from the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, and Forestry, and co-author of the Canadian study, tells it, though, that the risk of wildlife transmitting the virus to people is low.