Multiple spillovers from humans and onward transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in white-tailed deer

Suresh V. Kuchipudi, Meera Surendran-Nair, Rachel M. Ruden, Michele Yon, Ruth H. Nissly, Kurt J. Vandegrift, Rahul K. Nelli, Lingling Li, Bhushan M. Jayarao, Costas D. Maranas, Nicole Levine, Katriina Willgert, Andrew J.K. Conlan, Randall J. Olsen, James J. Davis, James M. Musser, Peter J. Hudson, Vivek Kapur

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124 Scopus citations


Many animal species are susceptible to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection and could act as reservoirs; however, transmission in free-living animals has not been documented. White-tailed deer, the predominant cervid in North America, are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, and experimentally infected fawns can transmit the virus. To test the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 is circulating in deer, 283 retropharyngeal lymph node (RPLN) samples collected from 151 freeliving and 132 captive deer in Iowa from April 2020 through January of 2021 were assayed for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Ninety-four of the 283 (33.2%) deer samples were positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA as assessed by RT-PCR. Notably, following the November 2020 peak of human cases in Iowa, and coinciding with the onset of winter and the peak deer hunting season, SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in 80 of 97 (82.5%) RPLN samples collected over a 7-wk period. Whole genome sequencing of all 94 positive RPLN samples identified 12 SARS-CoV-2 lineages, with B.1.2 (n = 51; 54.5%) and B.1.311 (n = 19; 20%) accounting for ∼75% of all samples. The geographic distribution and nesting of clusters of deer and human lineages strongly suggest multiple human-to-deer transmission events followed by subsequent deer-to-deer spread. These discoveries have important implications for the long-term persistence of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Our findings highlight an urgent need for a robust and proactive "One Health" approach to obtain enhanced understanding of the ecology, molecular evolution, and dissemination of SARS-CoV-2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2121644119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 8 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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