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Kansas researchers studying COVID-19 in deer; What this could mean for hunting season

Coronavirus in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — New research shows deer can carry coronavirus, and Kansas researchers are planning two years’ worth of studies to investigate the issue.

Shane Hesting, a wildlife disease coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), told the Kansas Capitol Bureau Thursday about the state’s upcoming plans. He said it’s not difficult for deer to spread the virus once infected.

“Once they got it, deer, very easily, very efficiently, transfer the virus to each other. And they dump out loads of virus,” Hesting said.

However, it’s not likely that hunters will catch the virus from deer any time soon. Hesting explained that there’s been no evidence of the virus spreading from deer to humans, like other zoonotic viruses transmitted through animals. Although, Hesting said humans, usually in urban areas, are able to spread the virus to deer, which can lead to more deer getting infected.

“Deer living in urban areas are in close contact with people. They’re in the garden, they’re in the backyard. Some people feed deer even with their hand. The virus can transfer very easily. You can give the virus to a deer very easily in an urban setting,” he said.

Hesting said hunters are usually at a distance when hunting, so they’re not really at risk of giving the virus to deer. But, according to the wildlife expert, Kansas is one of 40 states looking into coronavirus spreading among deer populations. It comes after other studies have found deer carrying the virus.

Hesting said his team would be starting a round of limited surveillance in December during rifle season, extending into doe season in January. It includes gathering samples through nasal swabs, then sending them to labs for testing.

One way they collect samples is through examining roadkill. However, they also enlist private individuals, like “taxidermists and processors,” who have their hands on many deer every year.

“If we were to collect samples from roadkill, we just won’t get as many as we get the other way,” Hesting said.

A full round of surveillance will start in September 2022. In the meantime, Hesting said hunters can feel confident going out to hunt this season and are encouraged to do so.

“We need hunters to keep the population densities in check. When you get overpopulation, it’s when you run into more problems with accidents and the risk of diseases with more animals.”

Coronavirus is transmitted by air droplets, so it’s also safe to eat the meat.

To learn more about the deer-hunting season in Kansas, click here.

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