Susceptibility of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) to SARS-CoV-2. Academic Article uri icon


  • The origin of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing the global coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) pandemic, remains a mystery. Current evidence suggests a likely spillover into humans from an animal reservoir. Understanding the host range and identifying animal species that are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection may help to elucidate the origin of the virus and the mechanisms underlying cross-species transmission to humans. Here we demonstrated that white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), an animal species in which the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) - the SARS-CoV-2 receptor - shares a high degree of similarity to humans, are highly susceptible to infection. Intranasal inoculation of deer fawns with SARS-CoV-2 resulted in established subclinical viral infection and shedding of infectious virus in nasal secretions. Notably, infected animals transmitted the virus to non-inoculated contact deer. Viral RNA was detected in multiple tissues 21 days post-inoculation (pi). All inoculated and indirect contact animals seroconverted and developed neutralizing antibodies as early as day 7 pi. The work provides important insights into the animal host range of SARS-CoV-2 and identifies white-tailed deer as a susceptible wild animal species to the virus.IMPORTANCEGiven the presumed zoonotic origin of SARS-CoV-2, the human-animal-environment interface of COVID-19 pandemic is an area of great scientific and public- and animal-health interest. Identification of animal species that are susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2 may help to elucidate the potential origin of the virus, identify potential reservoirs or intermediate hosts, and define the mechanisms underlying cross-species transmission to humans. Additionally, it may also provide information and help to prevent potential reverse zoonosis that could lead to the establishment of a new wildlife hosts. Our data show that upon intranasal inoculation, white-tailed deer became subclinically infected and shed infectious SARS-CoV-2 in nasal secretions and feces. Importantly, indirect contact animals were infected and shed infectious virus, indicating efficient SARS-CoV-2 transmission from inoculated animals. These findings support the inclusion of wild cervid species in investigations conducted to assess potential reservoirs or sources of SARS-CoV-2 of infection.

published proceedings

  • J Virol

altmetric score

  • 377.586

author list (cited authors)

  • Palmer, M. V., Martins, M., Falkenberg, S., Buckley, A., Caserta, L. C., Mitchell, P. K., ... Diel, D. G.

citation count

  • 170

complete list of authors

  • Palmer, Mitchell V||Martins, Mathias||Falkenberg, Shollie||Buckley, Alexandra||Caserta, Leonardo C||Mitchell, Patrick K||Cassmann, Eric D||Rollins, Alicia||Zylich, Nancy C||Renshaw, Randall W||Guarino, Cassandra||Wagner, Bettina||Lager, Kelly||Diel, Diego G

editor list (cited editors)

  • Gallagher, T.

publication date

  • May 2021