Omicron found in New York deer as experts voice concern about animal reservoirs

The omicron variant has been detected in white-tailed deer on New York's Staten Island, underscoring an urgent need to monitor the virus's spread among this animal population and better understand its potential risks for humans, according to research published Feb. 7 in preprint server BioRxiv.

The cases mark the first time the omicron variant has been found in wild animals in the U.S., according to The New York Times.

As of Feb. 3, 15 states had confirmed COVID-19 infections among deer, a spokesperson for the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service told the Times. 

The findings come as experts voice concerns that deer may become a reservoir for the virus to mutate and spread to other animals, or back to humans in the form of a new variant. 

At present, there is no evidence that deer are transmitting the virus to humans. However, widespread circulation among the nation's deer population would give the virus opportunities to mutate and adapt, which could "come back and haunt us in the future," said study author Vivek Kapur, PhD, a veterinary microbiologist at Pennsylvania State University in State College.

The research has not been peer reviewed. 

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