COVID-19 virus found in 3 Quebec deer, Canadian officials say

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Three deer in Quebec have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, meaning that the disease isn’t just affecting humans, but also Canadian wildlife.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease confirmed the first detections of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, on Nov. 29, according to a federal government press release.

The three white-tailed deer were found in Quebec’s Estrie region and represent the first time the disease has been detected in wild animals in Canada.

“Similar to findings in the United States, the deer showed no evidence of clinical signs of disease, and were all apparently healthy,” according to the press release.

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Previous research found that deer in several states in the northern U.S. were testing positive for the virus. Studies indicated human-to-deer and deer-to-deer transmission.

One study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in 40 per cent of the 385 wild deer they sampled in 2021 from four states: New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois. These antibodies suggest that the deer were exposed to COVID-19 at some point, the researchers wrote.

However, according to Canada’s Environment Ministry, “there has been no known transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from deer to humans at this time.”

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Still, the department urges hunters – who might come into contact with deer – to take precautions.

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“It is recommended that you wear a well-fitting mask when exposed to respiratory tissues and fluids from deer, practice good hand hygiene, and avoid splashing/spraying fluids from these tissues as much as possible,” the department wrote.

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SARS-CoV-2 has been found to infect many animals, the department noted, “including farmed mink, companion animals (e.g., cats, dogs, ferrets), and zoo animals (e.g., tigers, lions, gorillas, cougars, otters, and others).”

In previous interviews with Global News about the American research, Canadian scientists expressed concern about the possibility that deer were becoming infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Any disease that gets into multiple species, we can’t eradicate,” said Scott Weese, a veterinary infectious disease specialist with the Ontario Veterinary College and director of the Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses.

Jeff Bowman, a wildlife research scientist with Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, told Global News that Canadians were looking for the possibility that wildlife species, including deer, could become a “reservoir” for SARS-CoV-2.

“If the virus circulates in the wildlife population, then it can become sustained within that population and become a source to reinfect humans,” he said.

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Weese noted that it was also possible that a virus circulating in animals could lead to new variants – though he said it was unlikely this would result in more harmful disease in humans.

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“The more they transmit, the more they mutate because the more they replicate, it’s more random error that can happen,” he said. “And when they move into a different species, maybe it’s more likely to happen because they’re adapting to that species a little bit.”

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