SARS Covid-2 Detected
in New Jersey's Deer Population

January 19, 2022

A cooperative surveillance program between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services (WS) and the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife has detected SARS-CoV-2 in two free-ranging deer in Atlantic and Cumberland counties in New Jersey. SARS CoV-2 has also been documented in deer in six other states - Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, as part of ongoing surveillance projects.

The World Organization for Animal Health’s website indicates, “Recent scientific research has shown a high prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection within white-tailed deer populations in North America.” While the virus has been shown to be prevalent in deer they have not been reported to exhibit any clinical signs, and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is no evidence that wildlife, including white-tailed deer, are a source of COVID-19 illness for people in the United States or that people can get COVID-19 from preparing and eating harvested game meat.

There is also no evidence that the virus can be transmitted from deer to other animal species, and the virus is not expected to have a negative impact on the overall deer population.

Sample collection in New Jersey began in December 2021 from deer harvested by hunters from northern, central and southern regions of the State. So far, 398 samples collected from game butcher shops in this first year of the anticipated two-year study have been tested. Other states, such as Wisconsin have also begun testing their deer populations. SARS CoV-2 has been documented in other wildlife species such as mink, leopard, and in zoo settings in big cats, gorillas, otters, binturong, coatimundi, fishing cats and hyenas.

The CDC recommends the following hygiene practices for hunters:

  • Do not allow contact between wildlife and domestic animals, including pets and hunting dogs.
  • Do not harvest animals that appear sick or are found dead.
  • Keep game meat clean and cool the meat down as soon as possible after harvesting the animal.

These safety practices can reduce risk when handling and cleaning game:

  • Wear a mask to reduce your risk of coming into contact with pathogens transmitted through respiratory droplets. Preparing a carcass may make aerosols (small droplets and particles in the air) which could contain the virus.
  • Wear rubber or disposable gloves.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke when handling and cleaning game.
  • Avoid cutting through the backbone and spinal tissues and do not eat the brains of wildlife.

When finished handling and cleaning game:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean knives, equipment, and surfaces that were in contact with game meat with soap and water and then disinfect them.
  • Cook all game meat thoroughly (to an internal temperature of 165°F or higher).

At this time the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife is not recommending that hunters have their deer tested for COVID-19. This study is part of a surveillance project to better understand the potential impacts of the virus on animal populations.

More information:

Photo of White-Tailed Deer in Snow
Click to enlarge