Lab in Ames researching coronavirus impact on deer

AMES — White-tailed deer are susceptible to coronavirus infections and researchers at the U.S.D.A.’s National Animal Disease Center in Ames are looking into how different variants of the virus impact deer over time.

U.S.D.A. Veterinary Medical Officer Mitchell Palmer says once a disease is established in wildlife, it’s difficult to get out of wildlife, plus, there are about 30 million white-tailed deer in the U.S.

Palmer says, “It’s very possible that in this wildlife species, that’s very numerous and it’s everywhere, that a new variant could pop out that might be infectious to people.”

The research team has been infecting captive white-tailed deer with different coronavirus variants. The deer don’t develop a fever or clinical signs of COVID-19. The team is looking at the virus dynamics in deer, like how long they can find the virus in deers’ nasal passages and how long antibodies last.

U.S.D.A. Veterinary Medical Officer Paola Boggiatto says if white-tailed deer are infecting other deer with the virus, then they can spread it in other ways. “White-tailed deer could serve as a potential reservoir for disease,” Boggiatto says, “and then ultimately, that could be a pool or a reservoir really for human infections to develop.”

Researchers got $1.7 million dollars from the American Rescue Plan for up to three years of this work.