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Monday, December 5, 2022

According to a new study, deer in New York are infected with Omicron

It has been discovered that white-tailed deer on Staten Island are infected with the highly transmissible Omicron version of the coronavirus, marking the first time the variation has been identified in a wild animal population.

A increasing body of research indicates that white-tailed deer are susceptible to infection by the virus, and our results add to that evidence. The findings are likely to exacerbate fears that deer, which are widely spread throughout the United States and often live in close proximity to people, might serve as a reservoir for the virus and a source of new variations in the future.

Researchers have previously found that the virus was prevalent in deer in Iowa in late 2020 and in areas of Ohio in early 2021, according to earlier research published in Nature.

According to Lyndsay Cole, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the agency has confirmed infections in deer in 13 additional states, including Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia. Those animals had been infected with previous strains of the virus, according to the researchers.

A growing body of data implies that deer are contracting the virus from humans and subsequently passing it to other deer; however, there is no indication that they are transmitting the virus back to humans. However, in the long run, broad circulation of the virus in deer would provide the virus with more opportunities to evolve, perhaps resulting in the emergence of novel variations that may spread to humans or other animal populations.

The researchers also discovered that one of the deer infected with Omicron already had a high level of antibodies to the virus, indicating that it may have been previously infected with the virus. In humans, Omicron has shown that it is capable of evading some of the immune system’s defences. If it is immune-evasive in deer, animals afflicted during previous outbreaks may be prone to reinfection if the virus is identical in deer.

Between the middle of December and the end of January, the field workers collected blood samples from 131 deer that had been taken, as well as nasal and tonsillar swabs from a smaller subset of the deer that had been seized.

According to the findings of the researchers, about 15 percent of the deer had antibodies to the virus in their blood, indicating that the animals had already been infected with it before.

Seven deer were found to be actively infected with the virus at the time of sampling, according to P.C.R. testing of swabs from 68 deer collected during the sampling. A pattern of changes in the viral samples from all seven deer was discovered by the P.C.R. assays, which indicated that the Omicron variant was present in all of the samples.

After sequencing four of those samples, the researchers have proven that at least four deer were infected with Omicron, which spread fast through New York City’s human population in December.

The researchers stressed that it was hard to draw broad inferences from a single deer that tested positive for the virus and also had significant levels of antibodies in its blood, given the findings were preliminary. They couldn’t rule out the chance that the animal had generated such antibodies throughout the course of its present illness, but they couldn’t say for sure.

The researchers hope to conduct laboratory studies on the antibodies they discovered in the Staten Island deer in order to determine which version of the virus each animal was infected with — and how much those antibodies might protect against other variants — in order to better understand how the virus spreads.

More than a dozen states, including New Jersey and Massachusetts, have suggested extra precautions for hunters slaughtering animals in the field, such as refraining from slicing through the brain, lungs, or digestive system, in addition to normal hygiene procedures. “Get vaccinated, wear a mask and gloves, and wash your hands often, but accept that you might be exposed,” Dr. Mubareka advised people.

The experts stressed that the most effective strategy to prevent deer from becoming a reservoir for the virus is to limit the transmission of the infection among people. “The finding of Omicron in deer,” Dr. Kuchipudi said, “is a reminder and perhaps a call to action that the epidemic has not yet been eradicated.”

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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