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In surprise, Vermont's deer test negative for COVID-19 virus

A white tail deer fawn stands in the road
Robert F. Bukaty
A white-tailed deer fawn stands in the road, Sept. 10, 2021, in Freeport, Maine.

New data released late last month shows no evidence of COVID-19 in Vermont's white-tailed deer population.

Federal data shows about 30 states around the country have tested their deer populations for the virus. Some mammals, like deer, are reservoirs for the virus, and scientists have been closely watching to see if the virus mutates.

Vermont is the first state to receive negative results from testing their wildlife for the virus.

“Surprisingly, we didn’t find any positives of the RNA from the virus that causes COVID in people in any of the animals we looked at,” said Emily Bruce, a virologist at the University of Vermont, and one of the co-facilitators of the research.

Nearly 500 deer were swabbed over the last two hunting seasons.

More from Vermont Public: UVM study swabs white-tailed deer for COVID to better understand virus

Brittany Mosher, an ecologist and professor at the University of Vermont who was also involved in the research, said these results can be useful in better understanding the future of the virus and interrupting its chain of transmission.

“Perhaps Vermont provides an interesting data point that will help us kind of discriminate among all these possible pathways that we're thinking about as possible routes of transmission,” Mosher said.

It’s not fully understood why Vermont’s deer were COVID free. Bruce says it’s possible that Vermont’s low case numbers in humans played a role.

Another possible factor is that there aren’t that many Vermonters and the population is dispersed throughout much of the state. At the same time, Vermont has a lower deer density as compared to some other states where wildlife has tested positive. Those states include New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine.

Mosher says that because the study’s sampling method was nasal swabbing, the data represents active infection. This leaves room for the possibility that Vermont deer may have been exposed to Sars-COV-2 before the time they were sampled.

“We’re hoping to collect data again in the fall to kind of continue this story and understand better these alternatives,” Mosher says.

The preprint is available to the public and can be found here: Surveillance of Vermont wildlife in 2021-2022 reveals no detected SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA | bioRxiv

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Joia Putnoi worked as a Newsroom Intern from 2022 - 2023.
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