COVID-19 antibodies found in whitetail deer

Posted at 11:41 AM, Nov 16, 2021

As hunters take to the woods this deer season, wildlife specialists are urging slight caution after finding COVID-19 antibodies in whitetail deer.

Deer in several states have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to multiple studies. That includes Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma.

In this year’s herd health study, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation said about 30% of the state’s whitetail deer surveyed had COVID-19 antibodies. But this news isn’t causing too much concern for wildlife specialists just yet.

“We don’t have any evidence that suggests that it’s something you should be overly afraid about," said Oklahoma Game Warden Josey Branch.

So far, there is no evidence of whitetail deer spreading COVID to a human. If there is any transmission, Dr. Dwayne Elmore, an extension wildlife specialist at Oklahoma State University, said it would come from breathing or possibly droplets around the deer’s mouth. So, just in case, he suggests taking precautions when harvesting your deer.

“There is some risk that if you touch the animal’s mouth if it had the virus there and then you touched your face that you could potentially come in contact with it that way," Dr. Elmore said. "So, just wear gloves and don’t touch your face and then throw the gloves away.”

Dr. Elmore said you don’t need to worry if you just see a deer in your neighborhood. He also said the virus doesn’t appear to be affecting a deer’s health. But, if a deer does have COVID-19, is it safe to eat?

“People that are consuming venison, they do not need to be concerned," Dr. Elmore said. "Again, this is a respiratory disease. And the virus, even if it was present on meat, it’s going to be destroyed by the cooking process.”

When it comes to deer season overall, archery season is well underway in states like Oklahoma, and gun season begins a week from Saturday. Branch said they’re seeing a healthy number of deer being harvested, but are running into some regulation and licensing issues, like hunters applying for their license after harvesting their deer.

“The fines for that stuff add up quickly," Branch said. "You just want to make sure you’re caught up on the regulations before you go out into the field. Knowing the laws and regulations before you go into the field is crucial.”

This story was originally published by Katie Keleher at KJRH.