COVID-19 infections among deer populations risk wildlife conservation efforts, says wildlife epidemiologist
With deer season underway, hunters should take precaution as recent findings indicate that deer populations across the U.S. have been exposed to and infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Virginia Tech wildlife epidemiologist and conservation expert Luis Escobar says that while the role of deer as a source of COVID-19 infections to humans is unclear, wildlife conservation efforts are also at risk.
“We know that pathogens circulating in deer could reduce the interest of the people on deer-related activities, which in the end is detrimental for the conservation of many wildlife species,” says Escobar.
According to Escobar, recreational activities linked to deer, such as hunting, are a key element to generate revenue to support wildlife conservation efforts for many endangered species in many different regions of the country, also known as the North American model of wildlife conservation.
“We need more open, widespread, and proactive epidemiological surveillance in wildlife to better inform disease management. We generally have reactive control responses once outbreaks occur,” says Escobar.
“Many pathogens circulate naturally in deer, but to understand the extent to which pathogens negatively impact deer populations, disease surveys need to be sustained and studied across multiple federal agencies.”
As a precaution, Escobar says that hunters should avoid handling or consuming deer that appear to be sick because some of the diseases affecting deer may also affect humans.
Luis Escobar is an assistant professor of disease ecology in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and an affiliated faculty at the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic and Arthropod-borne Pathogens and at the Global Change Center, both at Virginia Tech. More here.
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