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Mass. joins nationwide effort to test white-tailed deer for COVID-19

Martin Feehan, a deer and moose biologist for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, took a deer sample in December on Nantucket at a check station as part of the effort.MassWildlife

Massachusetts has joined a nationwide effort to test white-tailed deer for COVID-19 after studies detected virus antibodies in the animals, officials said.

The state Division of Fisheries & Wildlife said Wednesday that 571 samples from white-tailed deer were recently collected for testing as part of a 41-state effort run by the US Department of Agriculture. Results aren’t expected for at least a month or two.

In Massachusetts, most samples were collected during the first week of shotgun deer season in early December, when deer hunters are required to bring their kills to check stations for biological data collection. Other samples were taken from deer killed in car collisions, officials said.

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A recent federal report found that COVID-19 antibodies were found in one-third of 481 samples collected from deer in Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Officials said the risk of transmission from deer to humans is “likely very low due to the outdoor aspects of hunting and the short period of time deer are contagious (7 days).” COVID-19 is “primarily transmitted by inhaling aerosolized droplets. These droplets can come from respiration or from the digestive tract,” they added.

There are no known cases of humans contracting COVID-19 from deer, and there’s no evidence people can contract the virus by eating wild game, officials said.

MassWildlife recommends several precautions to minimize the risk of disease transmission when processing and handling game, according to its website.

They include not handling or consuming wild animals that appear sick or those found dead; wearing gloves and a face shield when handling, field dressing, and processing game; processing it outdoors or in a well-ventilated location when possible; minimizing contact with the brain or spinal tissues; carefully handling knives to prevent accidental cuts; washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling carcasses and before and after handling meat; sanitizing all tools and work surfaces used during processing; and cooking game meat thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill pathogens.

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.