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SARS-CoV-2 Evolves Rapidly Among Wild White-Tailed Deer, Study Finds

SARS-CoV-2 evolves more rapidly among wild white-tailed deer than humans, according to a new study appearing in Nature Communications. Deer across the northern US were found a year into the pandemic to harbor viral antibodies and active SARS-CoV-2  cases were later identified among the deer, indicating that they can serve as a wild host for the virus and be a source of viral spillback into the human population. In a new study, researchers from Ohio State University collected 1,522 nasal swabs from white-tailed deer found in 83 of Ohio's 88 counties between November 2021 and March 2022 and analyzed them to find more than 10 percent of the samples were positive for SARS-CoV-2. After sequencing a subset of these samples, the researchers found that there were at least 30 introductions of SARS-CoV-2 from people into deer and that the viral lineages found in deer reflected those in the human population at the time. But they also found that the virus could transmit from deer to deer and that, while in deer, SARS-CoV-2 evolves about three times faster than it does in humans. :Not only are deer getting infected with and maintaining SARS-CoV-2, but the rate of change is accelerated in deer – potentially away from what has infected humans," senior author Andrew Bowman from the veterinary preventive medicine department at Ohio State says in a statement.