I know this sounds crazy. Scientists in Texas say many white-tailed deer here in Texas are carrying the virus that causes Covid. Further, scientists say there are documented cases of deer giving humans the virus.  Not many cases, but it has happened.

How psycho is that?

This could be especially menacing to hunters who kill and process deer meat. Covid isn't the only disease deer can catch.  According to Rebecca Dittmar, AgriLife Extension family and community health specialist for food protection management, Kerrville, handling and processing of animals in the field is critical to human and game safety.  This video was prepared to help even experienced hunters dress their game appropriately.

Fortunately, even though many deer in Texas have tested positive for Covid, researchers say the likelihood of contracting the virus from a deer, while not completely impossible, is very low.

In fact, according to scientists in Wisconsin, "out of the millions of humans who interacted with deer, hunting this last year, we know of only one human who may have been infected. Further, there is no evidence that eating deer meat has caused the transmission of Covid.

It seems the deer should be more afraid of getting Covid-19 from us. It is clear that deer who are infected with SARS-CoV-2 were infected by humans. No one is really sure how. It is true that deer with the highest infection rates seem to be in areas where they live in close proximity to humans.

Photo by Lute on Unsplash
Photo by Lute on Unsplash
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A bigger worry is that deer provide a pool of latent covid virus that could continue to mutate and infect, even when human outbreak levels are low. Infected deer could also transmit the virus to farm animals or pets.

So, the short answer to the question of whether you should worry about catching Covid from a deer is "no". There are other pathogens that occasionally cause infections so basic safety is important.  Here are recommendations from the CDC:

  • Do not harvest animals that look sick or are acting strange.
  • Keep game meat clean and cool it down as soon as possible after harvesting the animal.
  • Avoid cutting through the backbone and spinal tissues and do not eat the brains or nervous system tissues of wildlife. (For example, avoid bone-in neck roasts).
  • Wear rubber gloves when handling and cleaning wild game. It also makes cleanup so much easier.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while you are processing wild game because that brings your hands in contact with your mouth.
  • If you are concerned with meat safety, cooking meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit will kill nearly any pathogen that could cause human sickness. Studies show that to kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus you need to heat it as follows:
    • 3 minutes above 160 degrees
    • 5 minutes above 149 degrees
    • 20 minutes above 140 degrees

I, for one, am glad deer aren't out there infecting hunters or anyone else with Covid.

For one thing, it's hard enough to get humans to get the vaccine, imagine trying to convince deer that they should make an appointment at their local CVS for a shot. Getting them to wear a mask would be even more challenging.

Michael J. Rivera/TSM
Michael J. Rivera/TSM
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Although, someone seems to have perfected a technique for getting the animals to cross the road by those "deer xing" signs.

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