Researchers in a new study found a “stunning” rate of deer are being infected with COVID-19, according to NPR.

What happened: A new study out of Pennsylvania — which is available on a preprint server ahead of peer review — found that COVID-19 is spreading through deer, with about one-fifth of the 93 animals tested in the study getting COVID-19.

  • The study found eight deer whose genomes were sequenced, which led researchers to find variants circulating in the deer, according to NPR.
  • Some of the variants resembled the delta variant.
  • Others resembled the alpha variant, which was the first variant of the original coronavirus strain.
  • These deer picked up mutations along the way.
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What they’re saying: Andrew Marques, a microbiology doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and lead author of the study, told NPR that finding mutations is comparable to a parade.

  • “Some of these people (might) play really important roles in the parade,” Marques elaborates. “And by changing those people, that can change the ways the parade moves, the way that the parade sounds. And we can think of that as an analogy of the virus, where (a relatively small number of mutations) changes the way that the virus might spread.”

Variants and deer: There has been some concern about deer spreading COVID-19 in recent weeks after there appeared to be a possible case of deer-to-human COVID-19 transmission in Canada.

  • Researchers said the transmission might have included a new variant.
  • However, experts said it was hard to find this new variant “because it seems to have gone along unnoticed and unsampled in the background of the pandemic for almost a year,” CNN reports.
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The bigger picture: Experts worry that letting COVID-19 spread unchecked through animal populations will lead to a new COVID-19 variant down the road that scientists can’t see coming, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

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