Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Animal Disease Center » Infectious Bacterial Diseases Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #390284

Research Project: Diagnostic and Mitigation Strategies to Control Tuberculosis in Cattle and Wildlife

Location: Infectious Bacterial Diseases Research

Title: Susceptibility of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) to SARS-CoV-2

item Palmer, Mitchell
item MARTINS, MATHIAS - Cornell University
item Falkenberg, Shollie
item Buckley, Alexandra
item CASERTA, LEONARDO - Cornell University
item MITCHELL, PATRICK - Cornell University
item WAGNER, BETTINA - Cornell University
item Cassmann, Eric
item Lager, Kelly
item DIEL, DIEGO - Cornell University

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/9/2021
Publication Date: 11/30/2021
Citation: Palmer, M.V., Martins, M., Falkenberg, S.M., Devries, A.C., Caserta, L.D., Mitchell, P.K., Wagner, B., Cassmann, E.D., Lager, K.M., Diel, D.G. 2021. Susceptibility of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) to SARS-CoV-2. Biocontainment Network Monthly Scientific Seminar. 95(11):e00083-21 Meeting Abstract.

Interpretive Summary: Given the presumed zoonotic origin of SARS-CoV-2, the human-animal-environment interface of the COVID-19 pandemic is an area of great scientific and public- and animal-health interest. Identification of animal species that are susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2 may help to elucidate the potential origin of the virus, identify potential reservoirs or intermediate hosts and define the mechanisms underlying cross-species transmission to humans. Our data show that upon intranasal inoculation, white-tailed deer became subclinically infected and shed infectious SARS-CoV-2 in nasal secretions and on rectal swabs. Importantly, contact animals were infected and shed infectious virus, indicating efficient SARS-CoV-2 transmission from inoculated animals. Wild cervids should be considered as potential reservoirs or sources of SARS-CoV-2 of infection.

Technical Abstract: The origin of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing the global coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) pandemic, remains a mystery. Understanding the host range and identifying animal species that are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection may help elucidate the origin of the virus and the mechanisms underlying cross-species transmission to humans. Here we showed that white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), an animal species in which the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) – the SARS-CoV-2 receptor – shares a high degree of similarity to humans, are highly susceptible to infection. Intranasal inoculation of deer fawns with SARS-CoV-2 resulted in established subclinical viral infection and shedding of infectious virus in nasal secretions. Notably, infected animals transmitted the virus to non-inoculated contact deer. Viral RNA was detected in multiple tissues 21 days post inoculation. All inoculated and contact animals seroconverted and developed neutralizing antibodies as early as day 7 post inoculation. Whole genome sequence analysis of SARS-CoV-2 shed in nasal secretions of inoculated and contact animals revealed genomic changes suggestive of virus adaptation over time. The work provides important insights into the animal host range of SARS-CoV-2, and identifies white-tailed deer as a susceptible wild animal species to the virus.