Deer and COVID-19 – What is Going On?

Hello Wild Side Readers,

Have you seen headlines in the news lately about deer with COVID-19? Some of these headlines are a bit misleading. Check out the below information on what is really going on.


SARS-CoV-2 and Deer

In a late August press release, the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory announced confirmation of the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) in wild wild-tailed deer in Ohio. Earlier studies have shown that deer can be experimentally infected with the virus, and that wild deer (from samples in IL, MI, NY, and PA) had antibodies to the virus.

  • The deer tested were positive for the virus (SARS-CoV-2) but were not diagnosed with the illness (COVID-19). Some headlines you may see (including the above press release) are misleading! Currently, it appears that deer are asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
  • According to the Ohio Department of Health, there is no evidence that animals, including deer, play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to people.
    • Based on the available information, the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is low.
  • Currently, it is unknown how the deer contracted the virus, though typically the route of infection is from human to animals.
    • Infections have been reported in a small number of other wildlife species, mostly in animals that had close contact with a person with COVID-19. More info here.

Is hunter-harvested game meat safe to eat?

  • According to the Ohio Department of Health, there is no evidence that people can get SARS-CoV-2 by preparing or eating meat from an animal infected with SARS-CoV-2, including wild game meat hunted in the United States.
  • Hunters should always practice good hygiene when processing animals.

Additional actions to stop virus transmission:

  • To limit deer-to-deer transmission, the Ohio Division of Wildlife continues to urge homeowners and hunters to avoid concentrating deer at backyard feeders or in hunting situations. In addition to SARS-CoV-2, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and bovine tuberculosis (bTB) remain on the list of diseases that could be easily transmitted from deer to deer under these situations. CWD was confirmed in two wild deer in Wyandot County during the 2020-21 deer hunting season (see here for more information on CWD in Ohio’s deer herd). Ohio’s herd remains bTB-free.

More information:

  • Contact the Ohio Department of Health for questions about the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from white-tailed deer to humans; 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634) or
  • Contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture for questions about the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to pets or livestock; 614-728-6201 or
  • Press release on Deer with Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2
  • FAQ on Deer with Antibodies Study – also has food safety recs for hunters processing animals


Thanks for reading!

Marne Titchenell

Wildlife Program Specialist

4 thoughts on “Deer and COVID-19 – What is Going On?

    • Hi Greg,
      That’s a good question. Currently, there is quite a bit of research into the impacts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on animals. As white-tailed deer have recreational, economic, aesthetic, and cultural value, the question of how and if the virus impacts them is an important one. In addition, discovering how and if deer, as carriers of the virus, impact human health is also important. I hope this answers your question. Thanks for reading!

  1. These deer for the most part never get within 60 feet of humans, let alone 6 feet. They don’t share housing, transportation and so on. How are they getting the virus? Human to animal transmission seems statistically impossible ,especially over vast swathes of land, that encompasses 4 states. And I highly doubt it’s feeders. That route of transmission has to be near statistically impossible.

    I do agree the research is important. As a whitetail enthusiast I don’t want to see whitetail populations suffering from Covid. It’s bad enough here in the Midwest where HD (hemorrhagic disease) which has really impacted deer numbers in my area.

    • I agree, we don’t want deer populations to suffer. The good news is that they are not symptomatic and therefore don’t seem to be affected by the virus, so far. Researchers are not sure how deer got the virus, but the studies are suggesting that it spilled over from humans. I too am interested in discovering exactly how this could have happened. There is also a question of how long or if the virus will persist in deer populations. Hopefully, we will have more answers soon. Thanks for your thoughts and questions!

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