Aside from saving lives right now, there is another fundamental reason why public health officials are collectively pressing for vaccination. Slowing the spread of COVID-19 is because the more hosts a virus has, the more likely the virus will eventually mutate into something more virulent. This appears to have happened at least twice so far with SARS-CoV-2: first with the highly contagious delta variant of the virus, and then later with Omicron being the more contagious variant.
Currently, the number of human hosts in the United States is declining for the following reasons: The omicron wave is declining from its peak. If we’re lucky, it could mean that this wave of infection is over, that the coronavirus will continue to spread (and mutate) when it’s endemic, it will have fewer hosts to do so.
or at least Human hosts. As we know, SARS-CoV-2 appears to have spread in bats and pangolins before it was transmitted to humans. We also know that the virus has spread again in animals, most likely via humans: dogs, cats, lions, a large number of deer, and it appears to have been infected by humans.
Unfortunately, the infection trend may now go the other way. A recent Canadian study raises the possibility that deer – one of the large mammals widely distributed in North America – may have infected humans with COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. It could mean that the virus circulated in deer for some time, sometimes multiplying and mutating along the way, before jumping back into humans.
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The new study provides evidence that deer may have infected humans, although this has not been conclusively proven. The study, conducted by more than two dozen scientists across Ontario and published in the bioRxiv database (not yet peer-reviewed), included 300 samples of white-tailed deer in Canada during the final months of 2021. Seventeen were tested. These deer have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and they are all from southwestern Ontario. Scientists found that the same SARS-CoV-2 strain, which is very different from other known strains, was also very similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that infected humans. (It was also closely related to a strain found in humans in Michigan in late 2020.) While scientists cannot confirm transmission of the virus to humans by deer, they do know that humans live in the same geographic area as deer and are in close affinity with deer at the same time. in which infected samples were collected.
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However, the sample size is very small and no one has it permanent He proved that the deer gave the virus to humans. There is also no evidence that a person infected with the mutated SARS-CoV-2 has transmitted it to anyone else, and preliminary experiments indicate that the new virus will not be able to evade the antibodies. In other words, if it spreads to people, the vaccinated individuals are more likely to be safe.
Finally, since the deer-based SARS-CoV-2 virus is unknown, there is no reason to believe that it poses an increased risk to humans. The biggest concern is that because viruses can evolve in animals, there’s a chance they could turn into something more serious.
Samira Mubaraka, a virologist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute and the University of Toronto and author of the new paper, told the New York Times: “The virus evolves in deer and offshoots in deer far from what we see clearly evolving in humans,” he told the New York Times. After sequencing the complete genomes of five infected elk, scientists discovered several mutations that had not been documented before. They also found 76 mutations that identify the new version of SARS-CoV-2 from the original version of the virus. Some of these mutations were previously detected in other infected animals such as: mink.
Shortly before this study was published, a separate group of scientists announced that Pennsylvania deer may have persisted in the alpha variant even after it disappeared from humans—and that it evolved in them as they continued to publish. This raises concerns about deer incubating SARS-CoV-2 viruses.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is believed to have originated in a horseshoe bat. At some point, the virus is thought to have passed through one or more “thorns” to another animal and eventually made its way to a human host. Bats, notorious for hosting coronaviruses, are dangerous because their immune system is unusually aggressive. This means that viruses that live in bats must evolve and multiply faster to survive.
“The bottom line is that bats can be special when it comes to hosting viruses,” Mike Potts, a disease ecologist and professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, told Science Daily in 2020. Even bats are not closely related to us, so we wouldn’t expect them to harbor many human viruses. But this work shows how the immune system of bats can drive the virulence that overcomes it. †
To learn more about animals and the COVID-19 virus, read:
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