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Hunters spread COVID to deer, Penn State study says

white tail deer
Keith Srakocic
A pair of young antlered deer graze on the edge of the woods in a frost covered field, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Zelienople, Pa.

Researchers are recommending Pennsylvania hunters get vaccinated for COVID-19 to prevent the spread of the virus in the state’s deer population.

They say that’s because transmission could prolong the pandemic.

A report from the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) found 80% of white-tailed deer sampled in Iowa tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, last year.

Suresh Kuchipudi, a PSU researcher and biology professor who co-led the study, said the report showed that humans are spreading the disease to deer.

“We have a situation where there is still transmission of virus among human beings, which is creating opportunities for the virus to evolve, possibilities of novel variants to emerge,” Kuchipudi said. “[This] means the evolution of the virus is now twice as complex.”

Kuchipudi said animals like deer serve as a type of “reservoir” for the virus, which can be spread to animals around them, like mice and skunks.

That means that over time, new variants could emerge from animals and potentially spread back to humans.

“White-tailed deer do shed virus in their nasal secretions,” said Kuchipudi. “The virus from infected deer could either infect these animals and thereby it could pass back to human beings.”

More research is needed to see how the virus spreads in an ecosystem, like a deer’s habitat, he said, and that’s why it’s important for people who are around deer frequently, like hunters, to be vaccinated and wear a mask.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) recommends that hunters practice good hygiene by wearing disposable gloves and masks, and washing their hands after handling harvested game.

The agency says equipment, tools or surfaces should be disinfected with a 10% bleach solution for a minimum 10-minute contact time before rinsing with clean water and allowing the area to dry.

PGC says deer meat should be cooked to the proper internal temperature before consuming.

PennState Extension offers tips for proper field dressing and handling of wild game.

Read more from our partners, WLVR.

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