As in the film “Contagion” by Steven Soderbergh, certain diseases can link the human species to other animal species. These pathogens are called “zoonoses”, just like rabies or avian flu. In the film, a virus from bats, passing to the pig, the latter sold at the market, triggered a deadly epidemic. Faced with the pandemic of Covid-19it has often been asked whether this virus could infect animals.
Studies were conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University. The discovery took place at United States. Test results have proven that the Omicron variant succeeded in infect wild animals ! Infections have been identified in whitetail deer in more than 15 states in the country.
Scientists carry out studies on the transmission of the variants between animals and humans. They worry that the deer will become reservoirs for disease of Covid-19. Contamination can be imagined directly, but other animals can also serve as messengers.
Infections spotted in wild animals
Findings from researchers at Pennsylvania State University formed the first report on the spread of Omicron to wild animals. In New York, about twenty deer have been identified infected with the Omicron variant between December 2021 and January 2022. But before, infections were also observed in Iowa and Ohio.
There are more than 30 million deer from Virginia in the United States. The virus is currently affecting the American population of white-tailed deer. However, when there is a large population affected by the disease, it can infect species not yet contaminated. Moreover, the virus has already been detected in domestic animals, such as cats and dogs. These animals could also transmit the virus between deer and humans.
“We did not expect to find this level of widespread infection. It was quite surprising, and also quite disturbing. »
Insider Suresh Kuchipudi, Associate Director of Penn State’s Animal Diagnostics Laboratory
Researchers worry about virus mutation
The fact that deer become virus reservoirs is a major concern for researchers. Escaping vaccines, the virus could evolve and become more deadly in these animals and then infect humans. In addition, these deer live near humans.
“Anytime you have a heavily infected animal and the virus is circulating, it can still be a source of infection for other susceptible animals – and sometimes even humans, if the conditions are right. »
Researchers are urgently trying to determine if a reinfection is possible in these animals. Indeed, when the same deer can be infected by several variants of the coronavirus, the virus is not about to disappear from these populations. These animals live in herds and this facilitates its transmission.