The Omicron variant has infected deer in New York City.

The Omicron variant has infected deer in New York City.

White-tailed deer on Staten Island have been found carrying the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus, marking the first time the variant has been reported in wild animals.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that white-tailed deer are easily infected by the virus. The results are likely to intensify concerns that deer, which are widely distributed across the United States and live near humans, could become a reservoir for the virus and a potential source of new variants.

Researchers have previously reported that the virus was widespread in deer in Iowa in late 2020 and parts of Ohio in early 2021.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed infections in deer in 13 additional states — Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia — Lyndsay Cole, a press officer for the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said last week. Those animals were infected with earlier variants of the virus.

Research suggests that deer are catching the virus from humans and then spreading it to other deer, and there is no evidence that the animals are transmitting it back to people. But longer-term, widespread circulation of the virus in deer would give the virus more opportunity to mutate, potentially giving rise to new variants that could spill over into people or other animal species.

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