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White-tailed deer can get the omicron variant. Here’s why that matters

Could deer or other animals create a new COVID-19 variant?

SHARE White-tailed deer can get the omicron variant. Here’s why that matters
A young white-tailed deer.

A young white tail deer looks up from a hillside, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021, in Marple Township, Pa. Should people be concerned when animals get the coronavirus?

Matt Slocum, Associated Press

Scientists discovered that white-tailed deer can carry the omicron variant, which is a potential sign that deer and other animals could eventually create a new COVID-19 variant of concern.

What happened: A new peer-reviewed study published Tuesday found that white-tailed deer in Iowa carried the omicron variant.

  • This is the first time that the coronavirus has been so widespread in animal species.
  • Scientists at Penn State University and the Iowa Department of Natural Resource teamed up for the study.
  • Researchers reviewed hundreds of deer tissue samples.
  • About one-third of the samples were positive for COVID-19, according to the study. The numbers matched the levels of COVID-19 infections in humans in Iowa at the time, too.

Yes, but: Right now, there are no signs that animals can transmit the coronavirus back to humans.

Why it matters: According to The New York Times, “longer-term, widespread circulation of the virus in deer would give the virus more opportunity to mutate, potentially giving rise to new variants that could spill over into people or other animal species.”

Flashback: Back in November, researchers in Iowa said that they had found deer that had caught the coronavirus, as I reported for the Deseret News.

  • At the time, researchers said allowing the coronavirus to spread through animals would allow the virus to be unchecked.
  • This could mean the virus could gain dangerous mutations that could, in theory, make their way back to humans.