More than half of white-tailed deer in Michigan have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Experts believe the data imply that wild animals in the United States might act as reservoirs for the virus even if it is eradicated from the human population.

Virus Found in Deers

Red deer
(Photo : Getty Images)

From January 2020 to January 2021, APHIS collected 481 samples from deer in Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania for the study.

SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were identified in 33% of the total specimens, whereas 60% of deer in Michigan were determined to have been exposed.

Illinois had the lowest percentage, at only 7%, followed by New York (18%) and Pennsylvania (34%).

'There is no indication that animals, particularly deer, play a substantial role in SARS-CoV-2 transmission to humans.' Recent data show that the danger of animals transmitting COVID-19 to humans is negligible,' according to APHIS.

Continued Research

APHIS is researching a range of animals to "identify species that may serve as viral reservoirs or hosts," as well as "understand the virus's origins, anticipate its consequences on wildlife, and the dangers of cross-species transmission."

Mink Mass Graves in Denmark may have Contaminated Groundwater
(Photo : Getty images )

Last year, the agency confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 spread to wild mink, resulting in the eradication of millions of these animals globally - with Denmark alone eliminating 17 million.

Experts in the United States are now looking into specific animals around the country to determine if the epidemic has spread to the wild.

APHIS Animal Services collected samples opportunistically as part of wildlife damage management efforts in 32 counties across four states. APHIS' National Wildlife Research Center and National Veterinary Services Laboratories analyzed the samples.

Related Article: Scientists Double Effort to Find Possible Next Pandemic, Caused by Other Zoonotic Diseases

Antibodies

Despite the presence of antibodies, according to APHIS, "none of the deer populations tested displayed indications of clinical disease associated with SARS-CoV-2."

'Widespread human illnesses with SARS-CoV-2, along with human-wildlife contacts, provide the potential for human-animal spillover,' according to APHIS.

'Researching the vulnerability of specific animals, such as deer, to SARS-CoV-2 aids in identifying species that may serve as viral reservoirs or hosts, as well as understanding the virus's origins, predicting its effects on wildlife, and the dangers of cross-species transmission.'

Extensive Planning

Missouri Department of Conservation: Hemorrhagic Disease Found in Deer
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

Officials have yet to announce how they plan to address the issue of exposed wild animals, but Denmark wasted little time putting a stop to its exposed minks.

Twelve individuals were afflicted with a mutated coronavirus variant after catching it from minks in October 2020, prompting the massive slaughter.

Shortly after, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified coronavirus infections in the United States, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, all connected to mink farms.

When SARS-CoV-2 spread from people to minks in fur farms, the virus's spike proteins changed, making it easier for the virus to infect the animals.

According to experts, when the virus was reintroduced into humans, it contained this mutation, making COVID-19 antibodies less effective.

Also Read: Scientists Double Effort to Find Possible Next Pandemic, Caused by Other Zoonotic Diseases

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