ALL NEWS

Coronavirus in deer, other animals, causes concern about future pandemics

Nov 17, 2021, 5:33 AM | Updated: 8:52 pm
Coronavirus spreads in animals...
FILE: 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. The deer hunting season with regular firearms begins statewide on Nov. 27, 2021, while the archery deer hunting season has been open in areas on specific dates since October. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Originally Published: 17 NOV 21 07:10 ET

(CNN) — Scientists have found SARS-CoV-2 spreads like, well, a virus among white-tailed deer and other wild animals in the United States.

People are the likely source, but that doesn’t mean the virus can’t evolve among these animals and then spill back into humans, and researchers are worried about what this spread means for the risk of future pandemics.

There’s little doubt SARS-Cov-2, the virus that caused the ongoing pandemic, came from an animal — almost certainly a bat. And the prevailing scientific opinion is that there as an intermediate host, an animal of some sort, that was infected by a bat or bats and then infected people.

It’s also clear that people can infect animals. Pets such as cats, zoo animals such as gorillas and snow leopards and farmed mink can all be infected. Multiple cases have been reported, and evidence of changes in the viruses infecting mink have led to mass culls of those animals on fur farms.

The latest species to capture the attention of wildlife biologists are white-tailed deer. It’s little surprise that farmed deer would catch the virus from people. Any visitor to a deer farm knows the animals behave like goats, shoving their wet noses into the pockets, hands and faces of human visitors or caregivers as they clamor for food and treats — and setting themselves up for infection.

But how are wild deer catching it?

Viral spread among deer

“If somebody might bite an apple and throw it or even if I sneeze in a tissue and drop it,” speculated Dr. Suresh Kuchipudi of the Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University, who helped lead one study published earlier this month that found a third of deer they tested across Iowa between September of 2020 and January of 2021 showed evidence of infection.

Sewage has been found to carry the virus, so polluted water might be a source, he added, or people spitting or contaminating the environment in other ways. The deer may then spread the virus to one another.

“Keep in mind these are highly susceptible animals and while you do not know how much virus they need to be infected,” Kuchipudi told CNN. “It raises the urgent question — we know the deer are effectively transmitting virus among themselves, and then who are they giving it to?”

It’s also possible another species could be picking up the virus from people and infecting deer.

“We don’t know what’s going on in our very own country and we need to find out,” said Hon Ip of the United States Geological Survey in Wisconsin.

Viral hotspots among the rodents

Ip and colleagues tested animals they found around a mink farm that was the site of an outbreak in Utah and found skunks, mice and other animals were susceptible to a variety of coronaviruses.

They were originally worried that the mink, which caught the virus that causes Covid-19 from people, might infect the local wildlife. They found no indication of that. “It was a very pleasant surprise,” Ip told CNN.

But the mice, raccoons, skunks and other animals carried a load of other coronaviruses. “The number of coronaviruses and the diversity was a surprise,” Ip said.

“Our findings indicate an unexpectedly high prevalence of coronavirus among the domestic and wild animals tested on mink farms and raise the possibility that these operations could be potential hot spots for future trans-species viral spillover and the emergence of new pandemic coronaviruses,” they wrote in a report published in the journal Viruses in October.

Researchers like Ip and Kuchipudi say much more study like this is needed.

Kuchipudi and colleagues conducted their study after the US Department of Agriculture published research in July that found 40% of deer tested in four states had antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 — evidence they’d been infected.

There are several reasons scientists do not want to see a virus like the one that causes Covid-19 infecting animals. For one, it creates what’s known as a reservoir — so that even in the unlikely case that everyone got vaccinated and the virus stopped circulating among people, it would still circulate among animals and could re-infect people eventually.

More likely however, is the risk that it could change and evolve. That can happen in two ways.

One is steady adaptation. As it infects different species, the virus will change to better adapt to those species and that could make it either more or less dangerous to humans.

Another route to change: viruses can take shortcuts by swapping big chunks of genetic material in a process called recombination. Influenza is especially good at this, but coronaviruses can do it, as well. If an animal is infected with more than one coronavirus at a time, the two types can mix and match genes and potentially come up with new variants.

“Recombination is one of the major mechanisms for coronavirus evolution,” Ip said. So if animals are already carrying their own varieties of coronavirus, and people are then infecting them with strains that cause pandemics among humans — the potential exists for these viruses to infect animals at the same time, trade genetic material, and give rise to new pandemic viral species.

Pandemic origins

“This raises very urgent questions about the trajectory of this pandemic,” Kuchipudi said.

If there are animals out there like white-tailed deer that are so easily infected and that so easily transmit the virus among themselves, that’s a red flag.

That means much better surveillance is needed to see what other animals might be getting infected by people or by other animals, and what threat they might pose to other animals and to people.

“We need to be prepared for any variants that might emerge,” he said.

Plus, Ip said, surveillance is needed to know what coronaviruses are living in animals that might be the source of the next pandemic — not just among bats in remote caves in southeast Asia, but perhaps among mice or deer or raccoons in the backyards of the US Midwest.

And people need to remember that humans are the primary source of the spread of the virus. Even if Covid-19 originally came from animals, humans are the species that have amplified and spread it.

And there’s one answer to that spread. “Vaccination rates are not uniform across the world,” Kuchipudi said. “As long as there are susceptible human beings, we give opportunities for the virus to circulate and change. There need to be more concerted efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible so that we can at least minimize transmission among human beings.”

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.


Related:

Today’s Top Stories

All News

Idaho State Police are investigating a motorhome crash Sunday afternoon that injured two people fro...
Mark Jones

Motorhome crash in Idaho sends two Utahns to the hospital

Two people from Centerville were injured Sunday in a motorhome crash in Bannock County, Idaho, according to the Idaho State Police.
1 day ago
Intermountain milestone 1 million tests...
Mark Jones

Intermountain Healthcare announces plans to build hospital in Ephraim

Intermountain Healthcare has plans to develop 35 acres of land in the Ephraim area into a new hospital.
1 day ago
On Monday, David Rice was named president and CEO of Associated Food Stores. Photo credit: Associat...
Mark Jones

Associated Food Stores name David Rice as its new CEO/President

On Monday, Associated Food Stores named David Rice as its new CEO and president.
1 day ago
Salt Lake City Police responded to five different incidents involving weapons on Monday, Sept. 26, ...
Mark Jones

Salt Lake City Police respond to five different incidents with weapons

Salt Lake City Police responded to five different incidents Monday involving a weapon.
1 day ago
At 5800 So. 1400 W. you find an irrigation canal that attracts  a lot of waterfowl, seagulls and ev...
Mark Jones

Officials warn of additional cases of avian influenza

With the fall migration of wild waterfowl, state officials are warning bird owners to be prepared for additional cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza or avian influenza.
1 day ago
Strawberry Reservoir...
Devin Oldroyd

Fatal crash near Strawberry Reservoir closes SR-40

One person is dead and another injured following a car accident near Strawberry Reservoir. SR 40 is currently closed in both directions at milepost 40.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Coronavirus in deer, other animals, causes concern about future pandemics