Animal print mask

States across the country have begun issuing warnings to hunters about the positive COVID-19 rates among deer populations. 

White-tail deer across Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York have a 40% positivity rate for COVID-19 according to a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Heading into deer season, warnings were issued for hunters to know the risk of zoonotic transmission associated with field-processing deer. This part of harvest can potentially expose hunters to COVID-19, though animal-to-human transmission is very limited. 

The zoonotic transmission also referred to as zoonosis, describes a disease capable of spreading from animals to humans and vice versa.

“We believe that how animals are getting exposed is humans that are positive for COVID-19 coming into close enough contact with those animals,” explained Dr. Lacy Sukovaty of the animal science department at Missouri State University.

COVID-19 is a disease transmitted through the respiratory system, which is how animals spread the illness, according to Sukovaty. 

“Anytime a virus moves from one species to another it has to adapt to that new species. The more that happens the more variants are created. Even within humans as the virus is infecting different people it will adapt slightly from one person to the next and that’s why we have the Delta variant,” shared Dr. Christopher Lupfer of the biology department at Missouri State University. 

Lupfer goes on to explain that the spread to animals and other organisms creates the possibility of new variants that can infect animals that haven’t been able to contract the virus before.

“The big problem with new variants for humans is that it makes the vaccine not work anymore. The vaccine wasn’t designed to protect against the new Delta variant. So as the new virus is mutating and changing, our immune systems can’t cope with that because they weren’t vaccinated for the new variant,” explained Lupfer.

For more information on breakthrough cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors hospitalization rates among vaccinated people.

New variants carry their own set of public health risks. As the virus replicates itself inside the body’s cells an enzyme responsible for the replication process can sometimes make mistakes that impact the effect on the body, for better or for worse, according to Lupfer.

“If that mistake changes one of the proteins of the virus so that your antibodies can’t attach to the virus anymore, now the virus can avoid your immune system— and that’s what happened with the Delta variant,” explained Lupfer.

When it comes to personal pets, it’s a good idea to practice social distancing if you’re monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, and especially if you’ve tested positive. Sukovaty cautioned that dogs, cats and ferrets are susceptible to COVID-19, and it would be wise to minimize exposure to any mammals in the household. At present, there’s no known transmission to birds, reptiles and amphibians.

“When we don’t feel good, we tend to want our pets there with us but there is certainly a risk,” said Sukovaty. “The original strains couldn’t, in a laboratory setting, infect mice - but now that we have these new variants, they’ve found mice to be susceptible to some of them. So even if your household pet is a rabbit, we don’t know of any transmission into that species right now, but you should still use caution,” she explained.

“If somebody is positive and their animal develops respiratory symptoms, they should consult with a veterinarian and be very up-front about the fact that they are positive and their animal has respiratory symptoms because if the animal would get sick enough to seek veterinary care, then that staff needs to take steps to protect themselves as well,” said Sukovaty.

Follow Sidney Miles on Twitter, @all_s_miles

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