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USDA releases new information surrounding deer contracting Covid-19

A recent USDA study shows that white-tailed deer carry Covid-19 antibodies. There are currently no clinical signs of symptoms.

Posted: Sep 23, 2021 12:09 PM
Updated: Sep 23, 2021 3:29 PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The start of fall means the start of deer season.

For Missouri, deer season began on September 15, and with that, the USDA reported results on a study tracing Covid-19 in deer.

According to the United States of Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, recently completed a study involving white-tailed deer. The APHIS collected a total of 481 samples between January 2020 and March 2021 from Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. In those 481 samples, 33 percent detected SARS-CoV-2 anitbodies.

Jasmine Batten, a Wildlife Biologist and Wildlife Health Program Supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation in Columbia, Missouri, spoke with KY3 in a recent article. Batten said this information is fairly new and they are trying to figure out what it all means.

KQ2 spoke with a local meat processing company on how the virus could effect deer season.

"Right now they believe that it would be difficult for a animal to transmit to a human, not as difficult for a human to transmit to an animal," said Trina Clark, a co-owner of Clark's Custom Meat Company. "So our working assumption is that, that will not be a major problem during deer season for the hunters that are out harvesting deer."

The study states that deer are testing positive for the antibodies. There are no clinical sign of symptoms. 

"We've always had a certain process and procedure that we follow to make sure that that doesn't happen and that consumers are not susceptible to that," Clark stated.

While the study is fairly new, the USDA has relayed that the source of the virus is still unknown. Concluding the deer are contracting covid from the environment, humans or other animals.

Meat processing plants have yet to receive procedures on how to properly treat deer meat that may possibly be infected by Covid-19, but Trina Clark says they will continue to use the same process as they would when treating any other diseases found in meat.

"What will we do as a precautionary measure for that, is the same thing that we do for every other disease process in any pathogen that we are concerned about in meat processing," Clark added. "So we'll be careful about all of the organs. Obviously, covid is a respiratory-born disease. So, we'll be careful of the respiratory tract--disposing of that properly and then we will do an intervention on the carcass with a lactic acid that will work well against covid, so that should reduce anything else on the meat itself."

The USDA says the risk is relatively low for the deer to pass on the disease to humans.

"What every hunter should do regardless of covid, you know any concern with deer health, you're just watching to make sure that deer is acting normally. That they're moving around normally, that they look filled out and not emaciated, that they are not hanging their head or not responding to noise. Anything out of the norm would make you consider whether you wouldn't want to harvest that animal and eat it."

Overall, Clark believes there is nothing to worry about for those hunting deer and processing themselves, saying to continue normal precautions until further information is released.

"It's not that we have never dealt with disease processes and animals. So really I feel like we can handle this safely, unless there's new data that emerges, I think that we can handle it without there being any real risk to consumers even if you're processing yourself. Just be careful. Wash your hands, do the normal things that you would do to prevent infection to keep things clean and not pass on a pathogen in your meat," said Clark.

Clark added that the OIE has specific information on animals and covid.

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