COVID-19 antibodies found in white-tail deer in Pennsylvania, indicating animals infected

PITTSBURGH — Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture found COVID-19 antibodies in wild white-tail deer populations in Pennsylvania and three other states, indicating the animals were infected with the virus.

According to the study, researchers said deer are susceptible to the coronavirus, have a large population of about 30 million animals and often come into close contact with people. The study could help “identify species that may serve as reservoirs or hosts for the virus.”

Researchers also wrote that there is absolutely no evidence that people can get COVID-19 from preparing or eating meat from an animal that has been infected.

The study used a total of 481 samples collected between January 2020 and March 2021 from Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. COVID-19 antibodies were found in 33% of the samples. The results were not uniform and varied by state:

  • Illinois: 7% of 101 samples were positive for antibodies
  • Michigan: 67% of 113 samples were positive for antibodies
  • New York: 19% of 68 samples were positive for antibodies
  • Pennsylvania: 31% of 199 samples were positive for antibodies

The study cautioned that these numbers should not be used to assume that 33% of the entire deer population is infected with COVID-19.

USDA officials said they’re not sure how the deer were infected with the virus. It’s possible they were exposed to it from humans, from other deer or from another animal species. They added there’s no indication deer are playing a major role in spreading the virus and based on the most recent information, “the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low.”

An animal is said to be exposed to or infected with COVID-19 when antibodies for it are detected in its blood. Antibodies are created when an animal’s immune system reacts to the virus and it does not mean there is a current infection.