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Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
USDA FAQ's and resources about coronavirus (COVID-19).  LEARN MORE

Interim SARS-CoV-2 Recommendations for Farmed Cervids

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and State animal and public health partners developed this guidance with a One Health approach.

This document is intended to provide the most up-to-date information related to SARS-CoV-2 and farmed cervids. It also offers guidance on SARS-CoV-2 prevention and control strategies for cervid industry partners, animal health officials and public health officials. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.

White-Tailed Deer and SARS-CoV-2

USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS) completed emergency research on SARS-CoV-2 in order to better understand how this virus might impact the cervid industry. The ARS research shows that white-tailed deer fawns can be experimentally infected with the SARS-CoV-2. Once infected, the fawns were able to spread the virus to other white-tailed deer fawns in the same room without direct contact.

The study did not evaluate the susceptibility of other cervid species, nor did it look at whether white-tailed deer can catch the infection from people or spread infection to humans. ARS is repeating their research in order to gather more information, including establishing the infectious dose and understanding the duration of virus shedding.

After the results of the ARS study were released, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) completed a study that analyzed serum samples from free-ranging white-tailed deer for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Results of the study indicate that certain white-tailed deer populations in Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania were exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 were detected in 33% of the 481 samples collected from January 2020 through 2021. None of the deer populations surveyed showed signs of clinical illness associated with SARS-CoV-2.

It is important to note that this surveillance was designed to determine exposure of deer to SARS-CoV-2 in their natural environment. It was not designed to determine whether the deer were replicating and shedding SARS-CoV-2.

Can people get COVID-19 from white-tailed deer?

We are still learning about SARS-CoV-2 in animals, but there is currently no evidence that animals, including deer, play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is low.

The primary route of transmission of this virus is from person to person: between people who are in close contact with one another (within six feet) or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Airborne transmission over long distances is unlikely.

It may also be possible that a person can get COVD-19 by touching a contaminated surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

People can spread the virus to other people, as well as animals, before they show symptoms, or even if they do not have any symptoms. Information on the risk of game hunting and consuming hunter-harvested game meat is located here under CDC guidance for Pets and Animals.

Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by the virus that causes COVID-19 and the role animals may play in the spread of the virus.

Protecting the Health of Your Animals

To ensure the health and safety of animals and people on your farm, follow biosecurity and safety guidance. 

Biosecurity is a series of management practices designed to reduce the risk of disease agents being introduced and spread on the farm. In broad terms, it refers to anything designed to prevent the transfer of disease-causing pathogens. Biosecurity is crucial to control and contain a disease such as COVID-19, as well as in the daily management practices protecting the health of farm workers and animals. To be effective, biosecurity measures need to be disease-specific, as well as site-specific.

Take these steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission:

  • Minimize human-animal interactions by restricting access to your premises and all buildings that house cervids.
  • Do not handle cervids if you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
  • Wear a cloth face mask* and gloves when working with cervids.

*Cloth face coverings may prevent people, including those who are unaware they have the virus, from spreading it to others, but they may not protect the wearer from exposure to the virus. Cloth face coverings do not function the same way as personal protective equipment (PPE) such as a respirator.

Immediately wash your hands* with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after:

  • Having direct contact with animals, their food, or supplies, waste/feces.
  • Cleaning up after animals, including any body fluids or waste.
  • Leaving areas where animals are housed (even if you did not touch an animal).
  • Removing cloth face coverings, gloves, boots, etc.

*An alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol can be used on hands that are not visibly dirty when soap and water are not available. If hands are visibly dirty, wash hands with soap and water before using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Cleaning and disinfecting are important to protecting your herd and yourself. Follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid using cleaning methods that might spray infectious material into the air, including compressed air and/or water under pressure.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may be needed when cleaning or disinfecting a potentially contaminated area.
  • Follow the cleaning or disinfectant product manufacturer’s instructions for use. Follow recommendations for safe practices for how to put on and take off PPE.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as tools and equipment.
  • Follow biosecurity practices on the farm, including having dedicated boots and clothing that remain in areas where animals are handled.
  • To disinfect, use products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against COVID-19, diluted household bleach solutions prepared according to the manufacturer’s label for disinfection, or alcohol solutions with at least 60% alcohol, and are appropriate for the surface. Follow manufacturer’s directions for proper use and recommended PPE.
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