Antlers: The real horror story is that white tailed deer have COVID

The Problem
SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, is proving to be resilient even with vaccination of roughly 60% of the human population. In August of this year it was reported that white tail deer (WTD) were carrying coronavirus antibodies following a USDA study which covered four states. Later studies showed that the coronavirus strains in the deer were the same variants in the human population.

At first glance it may not appear too troubling. Many wild animals carry diseases which we have lived with since we began hunting. However SARS-CoV-2 is in a special class of viruses which can jump across species. We have already seen where other animals can catch COVID-19 and act as carriers. When a population as large and geographically wide spread as WTD  becomes a carrier for a virus, it creates a unique situation where the deer become a reservoir. This means that the virus is exponentially much more difficult to manage. This reservoir creates a perfect place for the virus to live and mutate. New strains of the virus may spread unpredictably anywhere in the country.

Apocalypse Cow
With wild deer being a reservoir for COVID-19, the possibility of it spreading to livestock is increased. Once the virus gets into livestock the chances of reintroducing the virus to humans is much more likely. We have already seen where COVID-19 has hurt the meat packing industry. Other food industries are also potentially at risk. Even if the virus cannot spread through the food product itself, the workers who are exposed to it at work can spread it to anyone who they come into contact with. We have already seen prices rise as the demand for food rises but the pool of laborers in food related sectors falls due to people catching the coronavirus. If we do nothing to bring down the number of human cases this will continue to get much worse.

What can I do?
During the pandemic there has been an increase in purchases of plant based meat. While this trend has sometimes made it harder for vegans to purchase these products, we hope that more people continue exploring meat free options. We understand that not everyone will switch to meat substitutes and we would like you to be as safe as you can.

People will continue to hunt and the risk to hunters appears to be low. So far there is no evidence suggesting that eating the meat from an infected deer poses any danger, however precautions should be taken when processing the deer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  offers the following guidelines to stay safe this hunting season:

  • get vaccinated
  • keep domestic animals away from wildlife, including pets and hunting dogs
  • do not feed wildlife or handle wildlife droppings
  • practice good hand hygiene, washing hands after outdoor activities and after processing meat
  • do not harvest animals that appear sick
  • keep game meat clean and cool it down as soon as possible after harvesting
  • avoid cutting through the backbone and spinal tissues and do not consume the brains of wild animals
  • wear a mask and disposable gloves when handling and cleaning game
  • sanitize tools and surfaces that come in contact with raw meat
  • cook meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F or higher

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has also advised hunters to bag and dispose of remaining parts of deer carcasses. The important thing is to not leave behind unwanted parts after field dressing the animal. In Wisconsin, the Raptor Education Group, Inc. (REGI) accepts donations of deer hearts. These should be bagged and frozen before donating to one of the collection sites.

We turn to fiction as a platform for exploring scary concepts like war, plagues, famine and much more. We have been attempting to teach ourselves important lessons since we invented the art of storytelling sometime back in pre-historic times. These stories show us how we should treat each other and the planet on which we live. Too many of us have failed to learn these lessons because many people feel that they have the right to ignore the consequences of their actions and kick the costs down the road. We are getting very near the end of our road and we could reach it a lot faster then anyone wants to admit.

The facts are a lot scarier than fiction.

This does not have to be the end of our story. We could still turn things around if we band together to fight the common enemy of SARS-CoV-2. It will not be easy or comfortable; we will have to change the way we live, but humans are the most adaptive creature on this planet. We have learned to live in some of the most extreme environments possible. If we do not learn to adapt to the world as it is then this will be the end of our story.

Both of us see ourselves as educators. We use our skills in research, analysis and writing to help others make important choices. This is why we have chosen to provide readers with this important information. It is not easy to read about the times we are living in and it is certainly not easy to write about them. Like a doctor talking to a patient about serious medical conditions, it is often better to come out and talk about what the problem is plainly and talk about the options. Stay safe and be well.