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SARS-CoV-2 Among Deer

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.

Previous studies have indicated that the virus has infected deer across the northern US.

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.

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