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The agency said that, despite the high number of antibodies

The agency said that, despite the high number of antibodies

The agency said that, despite the high number of antibodies

Forty percent of white-tailed deer across the Midwest are testing positive for COVID-19 antibodies, including deer in Illinois, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Eric Schauber, a biologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, told WCIS in Springfield that 7 percent of deer tested in Illinois had the antibodies.

Researchers with the USDA also tested deer in several other states and found that 67 percent in Michigan had been exposed to coronavirus, along with 44 percent in Pennsylvania and 31 percent in New York. While there's a possibility the animals could harbor a new strain of coronavirus, biologists from the USDA said more research is needed to see if they could spawn future outbreaks.

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which monitors crops and other wildlife, tested almost 500 deer between January 2020 and March 2021, according to the study. Of those, more than a third tested positive for antibodies.

The agency said that, despite the high number of antibodies, no deer appeared to be ill.

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"The risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is considered low," the USDA told Patch in an emailed statement.

Laboratory experiments have shown that deer — along with several other animals, including cats and deer mice — can be infected with SARS-CoV-2 in a controlled area. For the most part, however, the infected animals don't become very ill.

The study has yet to be peer reviewed, leading some scientists to question if the results will distract from the ultimate threat, which is human-to-human transmission.

"At present, there's no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is having any detrimental effect on deer. And for humans, our infinitely greater problem is spread from other humans," Daniel Bausch, a zoonotic diseases expert, told National Geographic.

Those who hunt deer are already recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wear gloves when handling the animal and thoroughly cook any meat to make sure pathogens are destroyed.

The most interesting part of the study, USDA researchers said, is how deer contracted the disease to begin with. If COVID-19 can be passed from animal to animal, virologists cited in the study said there could be a worry that domestic livestock become infected.

"Multiple activities could bring deer into contact with people, including captive (deer) operations, field research, conservation work, wildlife tourism, wildlife rehabilitation, supplemental feeding, and hunting," the USDA researchers wrote. Other possibilities include the deer contracted it through contaminated wastewater or from exposure to other infected species such as mink.

In Wisconsin, some dead minks tested positive for COVID-19. Prior to that, hundreds of workers in the Netherlands reported becoming ill with mink-related variants after an outbreak.

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Still, researchers said there is a far greater chance of catching COVID-19 from another human than an animal, even for hunters. But the study opens the door to more funding and interest in wildlife diseases.

"We do need good surveillance of wildlife diseases to know about this interchange of disease agents between people, domestic animals, and wild animals," Schauber said.

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