In late 2020, scientists found several deer in Iowa infected with the Omicron Variant. Now, the highly infection Covid-19 variant has been found in deer populations in 15 states.
Researchers are now tracking this phenomenon for fear that it will lead to a new variant. Any time a virus switches hosts and begins to replicate, there is the potential for mutation. To be clear, virus mutation is a very natural and common observation and should not be alarming. However, with every mutation there is a certain probability that the new variant will be more (or less) dangerous or infectious. In this case, there has been no observed variant from the leap to deer.
Humans seem to be giving covid to deer, and there has been no recorded case of the deer giving Omicron back to another human.
How serious is Omicron in Deer?
It’s tough to predict whether deer becoming infected with the Omicron Variant will become a significant issue for us. At the moment, there is no real and credible threat to humans resulting from this new information. However, a recent study found Omicron antibodies in 15% of deer in a sample of 131.
Currently, there is no evidence to suggest there is higher risk to humans due to finding the Omicron Variant in deer. That said, the primary fear right now is that a new variant could emerge after the variant replicates within a new host. If that happens (and we stress if), there is a slightly higher chance that the variant could be substantially different than the one that is currently driving the majority of infections around the globe.
While scientists are stressing that this is not an emergent issue, another factor needs to be considered. That is that deer could continue to pass the Omicron Variant among the population, generating new variants constantly. Because we cannot control whether deer in the wild are congregating and passing the virus among themselves, the risk for this increases – unlike in the human population in which social distancing has become the norm for most.
The takeaway? The presence of the Omicron Variant in the deer population is not an immediate threat. But researchers and epidemiologists are watching the data very closely.