CONCORD, NH (AP) — With hunting season underway, wildlife organizations in New Hampshire and Vermont have begun testing for COVID-19 in white-tailed deer as antibodies to the virus have been found in deer in other states, according to a government study .
“We collected blood samples this year during the five busiest days of the hunting season,” said Dan Bergeron, the deer biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “We have biologists at biological control stations and collect ages and weights every year. This year we also had blood drawn from them.”
New Hampshire and Vermont were approached by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service about testing the white-tailed deer population as part of its national investigation into the spread of COVID-19 among the species.
Maine is monitoring other states’ testing but is not actively testing deer for COVID-19. Separately, the state said it has detected high levels of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in harvested deer in the Fairfield area.
In its study, released in July, the inspectorate tested 481 deer in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania and found COVID-19 antibodies in 33% of the samples.
“We don’t know how the deer were exposed” to the virus, the study said. “It is possible that they have been exposed by humans, the environment, other deer or some other animal species.”
The study said that based on available information, the risk of deer and other animals spreading COVID-19 to humans is low. It also said there were no reports of clinical disease in the deer populations surveyed, and that captive deer that were “experimentally infected” with the virus as part of a USDA Agricultural Research Service study showed no clinical signs of disease.