Bambi has COVID and it's all our fault

There's an outbreak among deer in Iowa. How TF is this possible?

Fallow deer doe (female) (Dama dama), Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England
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The Pandemic
Originally Published: 

This pandemic is really a bummer. It feels like COVID has contaminated everything we hold dear — holidays with the fam, anonymous hookups, and now Bambi. According to a new study, a third of White-tailed deer in Iowa are infected with COVID and experts fear that these friendly forest dwellers in other states probably have it too, the New York Times reported. Because humans. Sigh. Here’s everything we know about why we can’t have nice things or let any other species exist peacefully.

The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed and was published online this week, analyzed lymph node samples from 283 white-tailed deer between April 2020 through December of 2020. About a third of the deer tested positive for COVID between September 2020 and January 2021, when human COVID cases were also surging in Iowa. Researchers concluded that the widespread COVID infections in deer were likely caused by human-to-deer spillover events and deer-to-deer transmission. In other words: We gave Bambi COVID and now it’s spreading.

How could such a thing happen, you might be wondering? Well, researchers aren’t positive, but they suspect that one of the ways humans transmitted COVID to deer is through tobacco spit. Yes, really. Imagine a rangy MAGA-head with a mouthful of chaw laying in wait for a gentle unsuspecting creature spitting his tobacco into the soft earth under his boots. Now see Bambi later curiously licking at that toxic wad and unknowingly contracting a disease so deadly that it has changed life as we know it now and forever.

Okay, I’m dramatizing. Researchers also mentioned in the study that human-to-deer transmission might have happened because of sewage discharge, which seems equally gross. It may also be in part that humans gave deer COVID when they were feeding them in their yards. We really can’t be sure, but frankly, I’m betting on the nefarious Bambi stalker.

The truth is that, while we have a lot of information about how to protect ourselves against COVID, it may take less contact than we know to infect another species. “Perhaps it doesn’t take much of a loading dose to get deer infected,” Rachel Ruden, Iowa’s state wildlife veterinarian and an author of the study, told the Times. Ruden went on to say that there are over 445,000 deer roaming in Iowa and that many of them have a lot of human interaction.

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“All of this is a striking example that we’re all in this pandemic together,” Ruden told the Times. Indeed. This isn’t the first time that humans have passed COVID to deer. A USDA study in August suggested that up to 40% of deer in Michigan, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania carried antibodies to the coronavirus. We’ve also passed the virus to cats, dogs, minks, lions, and tigers. So much for being the more intelligent species.

In any case, while most scientists don’t seem worried that deer will pass COVID back to us imminently, the COVID rates in deer are alarming for the future of the pandemic. “We can’t keep playing whack-a-mole with these zoonotic diseases because it’s just too costly, both financially and from a human losses standpoint,” Barbara Han, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies who has been studying the spillover capacity of COVID in mammals, told the Times.

If the virus keeps spreading and mutating in deer and other mammals that have close contact with humans, it is possible that it could come back to us in a deadlier form, according to the Times. Until then, health officials say that no special precautions seem necessary to protect ourselves from deer. The CDC guidelines for hunters basically amount to, “Just wear gloves while you bag a Bambi and make sure to cook her real good.” Okay, but what about protecting Bambi from us?