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Widespread COVID-19 infection detected in white-tailed deer in Iowa, study shows

Deer in Texas haven't been tested and there's no proof the animals can transmit the virus to humans.

HOUSTON — It was a very surprising revelation at Houston Methodist when a new study showed doctors that white-tailed deer in Iowa are catching COVID.

The information came just days from the start of Texas' deer hunting season.

Researchers want to create awareness, but deer in Texas haven’t been tested.

Nov. 6 is the official start of deer season in Texas. Starting Saturday, thousands of Texas hunters will be out to the brush, trying to bag the big one.

“I think it’s been surprising to all of us," Houston Methodist Chair of Pathology and Genomic Medicine Dr. Jim Musser said. “Approximately one-third of the deer had SARS-CoV-2 in their tonsils."

Musser said they made the discovery through genome sequencing and studying the tonsils of 300 deer. At one point, researchers said, more than 80% of those tested were infected.

They believe some of the population was infected by humans, and they became super-spreaders.

“Deer, of course, live in herds and they interact with one another in a herd mentality," Musser said.

He said there hasn’t been any evidence of deer transmitting the virus back to humans but wants people to be aware.

“We do not know how extensive this problem may be ... in Texas deer. We just don’t know," Musser said. “I think it would be prudent to be careful when field dressing your deer, gutting it and cleaning it and so forth, just to be aware that there could be a problem.”

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said isn't testing deer for COVID-19, but they want hunters to be mindful of another illness: chronic wasting disease.

CWD is a progressive and fatal neurological disease found in deer, elk and moose. TPWD said hunters should have their harvests tested even if they aren’t in a mandatory testing zone.