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New guidlelines on "Covid Deer"


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Just read this today on Syracuse.com




New York state’s whitetail deer population served as a “reservoir” for the earliest strains of the Covid-19 virus long after they’d all but stopped infecting humans, according to a new study by Cornell University researchers.  Published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Cornell study is based on more than 5,000 samples taken from hunter-harvested deer across NY state between September 2020 and December 2021. Previous studies documented spill over of Covid-19 from humans to animals, including deer, though it’s still not clear how that happened. Research suggests that direct contact with humans through hunting, wildlife rehabilitation and feeding, or through wastewater may all be possibilities.  The Cornell study’s findings represent a new possibility for deer-to-human transmission, or “spill back,” of Covid-19 variants once considered functionally extinct, said Krysten Schuler, co-director of the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab and one of the study’s authors.

"We don’t know just how possible that is yet, whether it’s very, very remote or more likely,” Schuler said.

Covid-19 has evolved in humans, going from Alpha and Gamma variants, to Delta and Omicron. Once it got into deer, however, it started evolving in different ways, Schuler said. It’s unknown whether Covid-19 variants detected in study samples are still circulating in NY’s deer population; and if so, if the virus has evolved in ways that might impact human health by becoming more transmissible.   Schuler’s lab is currently testing samples taken from deer harvested in 2022, with the aim of answering these questions, in addition to learning how long Covid-19 variants circulate in deer populations, what forms it takes, and whether those forms can infect humans. 

It’s not uncommon for pathogens such as West Nile virus or white-nose syndrome, for example, to ping-pong between human and wildlife populations. But once a pathogen spreads in the wild, there are no good tools, such as vaccines or treatments, to get rid of it, Schuler said.  “There’s still so many questions, but at least we know that it can get into deer,” Schuler said. “We don’t know if they’re going to be a longtime reservoir [for Covid-19 variants] or not, but there was definitely spillover.”  It’s still far more likely for people to get Covid-19 from other people than from deer, Schuler said. “But that’s a whole other ball of wax,” she added.

The Centers for Disease Control provides the following guidance for hunters to prevent getting sick:

  • Don’t allow contact between wildlife and domestic animals, including pets and hunting dogs
  • Don’t harvest animals that appear sick or are found dead
  • Keep game meat clean and cool after harvesting the animal
  • Wear a mask to reduce risk of coming into contact with pathogens transmitted through respiratory droplets from wildlife
  • Wear rubber or disposable gloves
  • Don’t eat, drink, or smoke when handling and cleaning game
  • Avoid cutting through the backbone and spinal tissues and don’t the brains of wildlife


When finished handling and cleaning game:


Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands

Clean knives, equipment, and surfaces that were in contact with game meat with soap and water and then disinfect them

Cook all game meat thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F or higher.

Check with your state wildlife agency about testing requirements for other diseases and for specific instructions on preparing, transporting, and eating game meat

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