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US scientists detect Omicron variant for first time in deer

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Some white-tailed deer living in the US are actively infected with the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a study.

The yet-to-be peer-reviewed study, posted recently on the preprint repository bioRxiv, also found neutralising antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in one of the Omicron-infected deer, suggesting that, like humans, these animals can be reinfected with the virus.

“Our finding that some of these animals harbour SARS-CoV-2 suggests the presence of another potential threat,” said Kurt Vandegrift, associate research professor at Penn State.

Last year, the team found that up to 80 per cent of white-tailed deer sampled across Iowa in the US tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

The finding was the first direct evidence of SARS-CoV-2 virus in any free-living species.The latest research highlights that many urgent steps are needed to monitor the spread of the virus in deer and prevent potential spillback to humans.

“While there is no indication so far of any of the SARS-CoV-2 variants spilling back into humans from deer, such an outcome is possible,” said Suresh Kuchipudi, a clinical professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, Penn State.

“The longer the virus circulates in these animals and the greater the number of individuals it infects, the more likely the virus is to evolve and potentially lead to the emergence of a completely novel variant that may be resistant to our current vaccines,” Kuchipudi said.

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