Utah mule deer diagnosed with COVID-19
COVID-19 was confirmed in whitetail deer populations in parts of the U.S. last year. On March 22, the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the delta variant in a nasal swab sample from a female mule deer from Morgan County, Utah.
According to DWR State Veterinarian Ginger Stout, the labs received 280 samples. They have more blood and nasal samples to process, but two mule deer had antibodies in the blood, and one had the antibodies and was actively shedding the virus. She said there is no evidence animals are transmitting the virus to people, but it is unclear how the animals were exposed to the delta variant.
"I think we're still trying to figure out exactly what's happening in the deer themselves and also trying to figure out how transition happens. So we don't have any good answers for that question, but right now, we haven't found any evidence that people can get it.”
Stout said the CDC and USDA had stated there is no clear evidence that humans can get the virus if they eat COVID- infected game meat. With COVID found in whitetail deer, Stout said studies in transmission are being ramped up, but she said there is much that scientists still do not understand about the virus.
“There's a lot to discover about what this means. Right now, we just have the tip of the iceberg. We have information knowing that it can be present in the population. We have a lot of questions that come after that, you know, what does it do to the population of mule deer? You know, do we need to be concerned with transmission back and forth? Is it going to be a reservoir of COVID that we have to think about? So those are just questions that pop up into our head, and unfortunately, right now, we don't have any of those answers.”
She said regardless of COVID being found in mule deer, safe food handling is essential when harvesting wild animals. Precautions include keeping pets away from wildlife, cooling the meat as soon as possible after harvesting, avoiding cutting through an animal’s backbone and spinal tissues, and never eating the brains of wildlife. She said the safety of eating game meat from infected animals is something the United States Department of Agriculture continues to study.
“The USDA is doing most of the research on this type of thing. And I think they have some plans to further the study more as the division. We don't necessarily have that capability, but in partnership with the USDA, I think a lot more of these studies will take place across the US, not just in the past.”
Stout recommends that people eating wild game cook it well and follow safe handling guidelines.