Missouri deer hunting season arrives as USDA announces deer can get coronavirus

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 5:17 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2021 at 5:25 PM CDT
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (KY3) - With the archery portion of Missouri’s deer-hunting season already underway and the firearms season approaching on November 13, there’s some surprising research concerning white-tailed deer and COVID-19.

According to a study conducted in four states in the past year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 40 percent of white-tailed deer tested positive for the virus that causes the illness although none of the deer in the study showed actual symptoms of COVID-19.

So what does it all mean?

No one is sure right now.

“Of course it’s very interesting to find this in deer and we’re going to be starting to try and figure out what that means but it probably brings up more questions than answers,” said Jasmine Batten, a Wildlife Biologist and Wildlife Health Program Supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation in Columbia, Missouri. “The important thing to note at this point is that there’s no evidence you can get COVID-19 by preparing or eating wild game meat.”

Batten added though that if you’re going to be cleaning and preparing deer meat it is recommended that you make sure to follow safe food handling practices.

“That would be wearing gloves and cooking to proper temperature and those kinds of things,” she said.

So far there is no recommendation to wear a mask when handling deer meat.

“For humans what you’re really worried about is the respiratory droplets which we wouldn’t expect to happen while we’re dressing that deer if the virus was present,” Batten said.

But when asked if that could change as more information becomes available about the recent discovery, Batten pointed out that there’s one thing for sure when it comes to the pandemic.

We’re learning as we go.

“The information on COVID-19 changes frequently,” she said. “But right now we don’t know that the virus has made deer sick and there’s no evidence that transmission has happened between deer and people specifically.”

In order to help further the study the Missouri Department of Conservation is hoping to contribute to the research by gathering deer blood, tissue and swab samples during the fall hunting season if they can get the details worked out.

“It’s a little difficult planning operation just because of the samples that are needed,” Batten said. “But we probably wouldn’t be that surprised if our deer have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 because of the percent that I’ve seen in the other states that they’ve tested.”

Also still to be determined is how the deer were exposed to the virus which could have been through other animals, the environment, or people.

The USDA did say the results of their study (which took place in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania) were not totally shocking because they already knew that white-tailed deer had similar nasal receptors to humans, although a deer has about 60-times the smelling ability of us.

So what is the big takeaway from all this?

“At this point there’s just so much more unknown than known,” Batten said. “But I think it really highlights the importance of recognizing that we probably should all be taking steps to make sure that we’re being safe in our coexistence with wildlife and minimizing spreading diseases to them and vice-versa.”

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