A groundbreaking analysis conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has revealed that Americans have transmitted COVID-19 to wild deer numerous times, while mutated variants from deer have infected humans at least three times.
Published in Nature Communications, the study examined 8,830 samples from wild white-tailed deer across 26 states and Washington, D.C. The analysis identified 109 independent spillover events, linking the viruses found in deer to predecessors that likely originated from infected humans.
The Alpha, Gamma, and Delta variants were among the variants detected in deer, even after the dominance of the Omicron variant. Notably, 18 samples did not have genetically similar human sequences, making it difficult to trace their origins.
The research team expressed concern about the ongoing introductions of new human viruses into deer populations and the potential for deer to serve as reservoirs for the virus.
The findings highlight the need for continued vigilance in monitoring the interaction between humans and wildlife to mitigate the spread and mutation of the virus.