Why the spread of COVID-19 in deer could alter the course of the pandemic.


Veterinarians and virologists from different universities in the United States issued the alert. The results of the study prepared by the experts are worrying due to the implications it could have for the population.

Since Covid-19 appeared and spread around the world in such a way as to generate an epidemic at a global level, there are indications that white-tailed deer, found mainly in the United States, would be very susceptible to the virus and that many of these would they were contracting across the country. Now, new studies have yielded results that the researchers say are pretty concerning and could alter the long-term course of the pandemic.

Available studies affirm that Covid spreads in a speedy way among the deer population, in particular white-tailed deer, and that the spread of the virus is such that it is already widespread in the population, according to a study made known by National Public Radio, one of the most prestigious public media in the United States.

This was initially foreseen thanks to theoretical knowledge: computer models carried out until September last year by the National Academy of Science of the United States suggested that the coronavirus could easily bind to and penetrate deer cells. Now, in a study by the same academy published on November 23, it was discovered that 40% of the deer tested had developed antibodies against Covid.

For their part, veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania have found active Covid infections in at least 30% of the white-tailed deer studied in Iowa. Their report suggests that this species of deer could transform into what is known as a coronavirus reservoir. 

In that sense, it is possible animals could carry the virus indefinitely and spread it from time to time.

If that happened then the consequences could be catastrophic. Dr.  Suresh Kuchipudi of the University of Pennsylvania, who co-led the study, says that if deer play a role in reservoirs, then no one in the United States and, therefore, in the world can eradicate or eradicate the virus. Hope will fade. “If the virus has the opportunity to find an alternative host other than humans, which we would call a reservoir, it will create a sanctuary where the virus can continue to circulate even if Let the entire human population become immune, “he told NPR. “And so the virus is becoming harder to control or eradicate,” he added.

According to Vivek Kapoor, a microbiologist at the same university, he was “quite surprised” by the results who co-led the study.

We were amazed to see such a high number of positive samples,” he also told NPR. Between April and December of last year, they found that 30% of the analyzed deer tested positive after performing a PCR test, while between November 23 and January 10, during a cold snap in the state of Iowa, almost 80% of the deer tested were infected with the virus. This level of infection, Kapur says, was 50 to 100 times higher than the infection levels of Iowans at the time.

The researchers also found that the variants circulating in deer were precisely the same as those circulating in humans. This suggests that people infected the deer and that later they were transmitting the virus between the animals. Virologist Linda Saif of the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine fears that the spread of the virus will reach all deer in the country, estimated at 30 million.

Also, in dialogue with NPR, the virologist expresses her concern about the implications of this situation: “Now the question is: Can the virus pass from deer to humans? Or can deer effectively transmit the virus to grazing cattle? We still don’t know the answers to these questions, but if they are authentic, they are worrying, “he says.

And the spread of the virus such as this is not Saif’s only concern, as there is a risk that Covid could evolve within deer and create new strains of the virus. A similar situation occurred in farms in Holland and Poland in which the infected animals were minks. According to studies that documented this, farmers transmitted the virus to animals. As it spread among minks, it mutated and created new variants. And, as later reported, these new variants were later passed back to humans, posing the risk of spreading a more dangerous strain.

That is why constant surveillance of the presence of Covid in both wild and domestic fauna is vital to “not be surprised by an emerging variant that appears suddenly,” says Kuchipudi, “especially watching over animals that could serve as a reservoir, such as a deer.”

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