COVID-19 confirmed in California mule deer

Photo Credit: Getty Images

A California mule deer buck has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19. This is the first time the virus has been confirmed in “free-ranging California wildlife,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The buck was killed by a hunter in El Dorado County in 2021. CDFW tested the sample for chronic wasting disease (CWD) as part of the state’s surveillance. The sample came back negative; however, because SARS-CoV-2 had been detected in whitetail deer and mule deer in neighboring states as well as several Canadian provinces, CDFW decided to test archived deer samples for the other virus.

In total, CDFW submitted archived samples of 379 blacktail deer and mule deer that were collected in 2020 and 2021 to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis for initial testing with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, completing confirmatory testing.

“Others have shown that deer can be infected with SARS-CoV-2 and that they can pass it to other deer but do not get sick,” said Dr. Brandon Munk, senior wildlife veterinarian with CDFW. “We do not see SARS-CoV-2 as a threat to our deer populations but we continue to work with partners to better understand what, if any, significance SARS-CoV-2 infections in wildlife may pose to wildlife and people. This is certainly another reminder not to intentionally feed deer. Artificially congregating deer increases the likelihood of spreading disease and may be a source of SARS-CoV-2 exposure for deer.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to humans is “considered low.” Click here for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ SARS-CoV-2 guidelines for whitetail deer. To date, USDA APHIS has confirmed cases of the virus in animals across the U.S. and, specifically, is monitoring the virus in deer. CDFW plans to continue monitoring and testing California deer for SARS-CoV-2. 

Stay tuned to GOHUNT for further updates.


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