By Geoff Agombar
Local Journalism Initiative
American scientists have identified white-tailed deer as a potential North American “reservoir” for the ongoing spread and mutation of COVID-19.
One study published by the National Academy of Sciences reported finding COVID-19 antibodies in 40 per cent of deer samples collected in 2021. A preprint study available on bioRxiv tested 283 deer in Iowa and found that one third of samples collected in 2020 had active COVID-19 infections.
In light of these results, scientists with Quebec’s Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) sampled approximately 250 deer from Nov. 6-8. These efforts are part of a pan-Canadian collection coordinated by the federal ECCC (Environement Canada and Climate Change) ministry. Wildlife service across the country are gathering samples to test whether the virus is also spreading in deer populations north of the border. Results are expected in January.
Quebec samples were collected at two registration stations, one in Dunham, Montérégie and one in the Brownsburg, Basses-Laurentides.
The Basse-Laurentides station was selected because the MFFP already has resources in place to monitor for cases of chronic wasting disease following cases on a deer farm in 2018, and hunters in that zone are obligated to register in person, not online.
The Montérégie station was selected because it has dense deer and human populations, and the region experienced relatively high rates of Covid during the pandemic.
MFFP biologist Marianne Gagnier was quick to point out that there are no documented cases deer-to-human transmission, nor cases of human infections related to hunting activity.
“There’s a lot of media attention currently about deer and Covid and, scientifically speaking, it is of course concerning.” says Gagnier. “But, to focus on public health, Covid remains a disease that is transmitted from person to person. The risk of exposure to Covid remains most elevated from the people around us. ‘Can I catch Covid from the deer I’ve shot?’ that risk is not elevated. In fact, it is very, very low.”
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