Advertisement

Omicron infection in U.S. deer raises concern about new COVID-19 variants

Click to play video: 'Canadian zoos eagerly await COVID-19 vaccine shipment for animals'
Canadian zoos eagerly await COVID-19 vaccine shipment for animals
WATCH: Canadian zoos eagerly await COVID-19 vaccine shipment for animals – Dec 3, 2021

The discovery of the Omicron variant in white-tailed deer in New York has raised concerns that the species, numbering 30 million in the United States, could become hosts of a new coronavirus strain, a lead researcher said on Tuesday.

Blood and some nasal swab samples from 131 deer captured on New York’s Staten Island revealed that nearly 15% had virus antibodies. The finding suggested that the animals had previous coronavirus infections and were vulnerable to repeated reinfections with new variants, researchers led by Pennsylvania State University scientists said.

Read more: U.S. deer are catching COVID-19. What that means for our fight against the virus

Read next: Former Alberta CMOH appointed to public health leadership role in B.C.

“Circulation of the virus in an animal population always raises the possibility of getting back to humans, but more importantly it provides more opportunities for the virus to evolve into novel variants,” said Suresh Kuchipudi, a Penn State veterinary microbiologist.

Story continues below advertisement

“When the virus completely mutates, then it can escape the protection of the current vaccine. So we’d have to change the vaccine again,” Kuchipudi said.

Click to play video: 'Longueuil, Que., open to discussion with animal rescue groups over deer culling plan'
Longueuil, Que., open to discussion with animal rescue groups over deer culling plan

The discovery – the first time Omicron was detected in a wild animal – comes as a surge in COVID-19 infections fueled by the variant are abating among the U.S. human population.

While there is no evidence that animals are transmitting the virus to humans, most coronavirus infections were reported in species that had close contact with a person with COVID-19, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Read more: COVID-19 virus detected in five Ontario deer: officials

Read next: ‘It was my heart’: Women with heart disease face barriers to care in Canada, report says

In August, the U.S. government said it found the world’s first cases of COVID-19 in wild deer in Ohio, expanding the list of animals known to have tested positive for the disease.

Story continues below advertisement

The finding was based on samples collected from deer months before the heavily mutated variant Omicron emerged to replace the previously dominant Delta variant in people in countries around the world.

The USDA had previously reported COVID-19 in animals including dogs, cats, tigers, lions, snow leopards, otters, gorillas and minks.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by David Gregorio)

Sponsored content