Coronavirus Probably Spread Widely in Deer and Perhaps Back to People, U.S.D.A. Says
Why It Matters: Deer could be a source of new variants.
There is no evidence that deer play a major role in spreading the virus to humans, but the transmission of the virus from people to animals raises several public health concerns.
First, animal reservoir could allow viral variants that have disappeared from human populations to persist. Indeed, the new study confirms prior reports that some coronavirus variants, including Alpha and Gamma, continued to circulate in deer even after they became rare in people.
New animal hosts also give the virus new opportunities to mutate and evolve, potentially giving rise to new variants that could infect people. If these variants are different enough from those that have previously circulated in humans, they could evade some of the immune system’s defenses.
Background: Scientists have found signs of widespread infection in deer.
Researchers at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, in collaboration with other government and academic scientists, began looking for the coronavirus in free-ranging white-tailed deer in 2021, after studies…