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Deer tested for COVID on Cape Cod and the Islands

Bike Path deer.jpg
Dan Tritle
A deer on the Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth.

Deer have been found to carry COVID-19, though it’s unlikely to transmit to humans.

State wildlife researchers were on the Cape and Islands this past week to assist with a federal project trying to better understand the impact of the virus on the white-tail deer population.

Massachusetts deer and moose specialist Martin Feehan tested about 50 deer on Nantucket for COVID this week, before sampling on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. He was testing deer brought in by hunters during shotgun season.

Feehan says we won't know the results for a few months, until the U.S. Department of Agriculture compiles data from across the country.

The state biologist says that early data has found that deer have faired relatively well from COVID. There's been no reports of mortality in the populations.

"If you think about deer, they're really athletic and anaerobic animals and usually quite young," Feehan says. "When you have athletic, anaerobic humans, they tend to have light infection or be asymptomatic altogether. and so that's likely the case with deer."

White-tail deer average only 2-and-a-half years old, Feehan says, although they reproduce relatively quickly.

And he says the risk for hunters getting infected is very low, because hunting is outdoors, and deer shed COVID for only a few days.

The CDC also says that there is no evidence that people can contract COVID through preparing or eating a wild animal that had COVID.

However, the CDC does say that there is still a lot to learn about this virus, but they know it can spread from people to susceptible to wildlife, especially after close contact with a person who has COVID-19.

"The virus may threaten the health and welfare of wildlife and could negatively impact conservation efforts," the CDC warns.

Massachusetts is one of 41 states across the country where biologists are testing the native deer species for COVID. It's part of phase 1 of the federal program, that Feehan says is an effort to better understand the impact of the virus.

“Until we know how transmission is occurring, then we don’t know where risk could potentially be so that’s important for everything we do for the management of the animals and management with hunters,” he says.

Later phases of the project will hone in on states with the highest concentrations of covid in the deer population, and researchers will then try to understand how deer may have contracted the virus.