Smriti Mallapaty in Nature:
Researchers have worked with hunters for decades as part of regular wildlife surveillance to manage deer populations and track the spread of infectious diseases, such as chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis. But these days, the scientists are also looking for the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.
In between estimating a deer’s age by checking teeth and taking antler measurements, researchers wearing masks and gloves wipe mud and grass from around the animal’s nostrils before inserting a swab to test for viral RNA. They then collect blood to check for antibodies against the virus. Their work has uncovered widespread infection in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in North America, with hundreds of infected animals in 24 US states and several Canadian provinces.
Scientists want to understand how the virus gets into deer, what happens as it spreads among them, and what risk these infections might pose for other wildlife and for humans. Close to 30 million deer live in the United States — one for every 10 people — and a few million live in Canada.