Animals

MassWildlife joins other states in testing deer for COVID-19

It's part of a program with the United States Department of Agriculture to see if the virus can move between humans and animals.

A deer in Philadelphia
Matt Rourke / AP

Humans aren’t the only species undergoing tests for COVID-19 right now.

Wildlife agencies in several states are testing white-tailed deer for signs of the coronavirus, including Massachusetts, according to WBZ.

It’s part of a program with the United States Department of Agriculture to see if the virus can move between humans and animals, according to the station.

It started after a study found COVID-19 antibodies in deer.

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MassWildlife, so far, has collected samples from 500 deer, according to the TV station. It began collecting samples in November, coinciding with the start of hunting season, according to WBZ.

MassWildlife biologist Martin Feehan expects to have results in a month or two, he told the station.

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“We do know that at this point, every place that [deer] have been tested, there have been antibodies found,” Feehan told WBUR. “Whether it’s transmitting amongst deer populations, whether they’re contracting it somewhere in the environment — or any other mode that they’re getting it — it is transmitting regularly to deer.”

The idea to test deer started with a National Academy of Sciences study that noted that certain protein receptors in white-tailed deer and other animals could make them vulnerable to the virus.

Scientists at the National Wildlife Research Center decided to test the theory by analyzing samples from four states and discovered 40 percent had COVID antibodies.

MassWildlife noted on its website that there have been no known cases of deer transmitting COVID-19 to a human.

“The risk for transmission from deer to humans is likely very low due to the outdoor aspect of hunting and the short period of time deer are contagious with the virus,” the agency said on its website.

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