November 09, 2021
A recent wildlife study targeted and tested 283 individual lymph nodes (RPLN) taken from whitetail deer, America’s predominant cervid and most popular game animal. Lymph nodes were taken from 151 wild “free-living” deer and the additional 132 were taken from captive deer. All specimens were gathered in Iowa spanning the dates of April 2020 to December 2020. The reason for this odd round-up of lymph nodes? To further understand the risk of coronavirus spreading through animal populations, possibly even back to humans in a new variant.
The study states, “Overall, 94 of the 283 RPLN samples were found to be positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA.”
What we need to understand first is that animals can carry SARS-COv-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 in humans. This has been proven. So, the issue is not can animals carry the coronavirus, but rather, can animal populations, particularly deer, transmit the virus back to humans? Can deer carry the virus long enough to develop a new variant? If these two questions are a ‘yes’, this would be a huge health issue for all humans, not just hunters.
This is not a scare tactic to end deer hunting, nor is it a click-bait opportunity to continue talking about Covid-19. This is a genuine piece of wildlife research aimed at further understanding the connectivity of humans and wild animals—especially the ones we hunt most here in America.
It should be noted that this study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, was only performed in the state Iowa, and the sampling was not perfectly uniform. Further research will need to be conducted before anyone can claim deer populations can be spreading coronavirus back to humans.
The study states: “SARS-CoV-2 was detected in one-third of sampled White-tailed deer in Iowa between September 2020 and January of 2021 that likely resulted from multiple human-to-deer spillover events and deer-to-deer transmission.”
The deer are contracting coronavirus, and most all signs point back to humans as the “spillover” culprit. How exactly humans are giving deer the virus still remains unknown. But we now know, and have been shown, that deer populations are indeed carrying the virus. This means that the virus is alive and being given the chance to naturally spread and mutate.
So, will the virus naturally mutate and overcome immunities strengthened by antibodies or vaccinations? This is what scientists are truly concerned about. A large population of infected animals could give coronavirus the chance to become much more harmful, and much harder to fight.
Currently, there is no evidence that wildlife might be a source of infection for people. However, some wild animals are known to be susceptible to infection, and some non-native wildlife, including big cats and non-human primates, have become infected in captive settings such as zoos (see this CDC link for more information).
There is no evidence that you can get COVID-19 by preparing or eating food, including wild hunted game meat in the United States. Regardless of what may be scientific truth when it comes to coronavirus and deer, it never hurts to play the safe card.
Hunters can get infected with many diseases when processing or eating game. Hunters should always practice good hygiene when processing animals by following these food safety recommendations:
- Do not allow contact between wildlife and domestic animals, including pets and hunting dogs.
- Do not harvest animals that appear sick or are found dead.
- Keep game meat clean and cool the meat down as soon as possible after harvesting the animal.
- Avoid cutting through the backbone and spinal tissues and do not eat the brains of wildlife.
- When handling and cleaning game:
- Wear rubber or disposable gloves.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke.
- When finished handling and cleaning game:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Clean knives, equipment, and surfaces that were in contact with game meat with soap and water and then disinfect them.
- Cook all game meat thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F or higher.
- Check with your state wildlife agency regarding any testing requirements for other diseases and for any specific instructions regarding preparing, transporting, and consuming game meat.
For further health information and food safety recommendations, you can visit the following websites: