The Missouri Department of Conservation is wisely taking initial steps to understand whether any of our state's deer population has been infected by COVID-19 and what implications that could have on wildlife and humans.
As we recently reported, the department will use hunters it has on staff to collect nasal, blood and lymph node samples from white-tailed deer they shoot this hunting season. The samples will go toward learning about COVID-19 in the state's deer population.
A United States Department of Agriculture study completed in August showed that of 481 deer samples collected in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania between January 2020 and March 2021, 33 percent were found to have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. That indicates they had the virus and their bodies reacted to it.
This suggests there's a distinct possibility some Missouri deer have had the virus as well.
Joe Jerek, news services coordinator for MDC, said MDC has hundreds of staff members who are avid deer hunters, so the current focus is on them collecting samples instead of the public.
"When a hunter harvests a deer, as they field dress that, we're going to ask them to take nasal swabs and provide them with the tools they'll need for that, and also get a blood sample and also collect lymph nodes," Jerek said in our recent story.
Fortunately, there's no evidence people can get the virus from handling or eating meat from an infected animal. The study also found no evidence deer were significantly contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in humans.
We know white-tailed deer are susceptible to the virus and they do sometimes get close to people. But more research is needed, so we support MDC's efforts to start researching the issue.