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SARS-CoV-2 is Emerging in White-Tailed Deer and Can Infect and Spread Among Deer Mice Experimentally: What About Deer Ticks?

Published:September 02, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2022.08.020

      Key words

      Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection of humans is often regarded as a zoonotic infection that originated in bats. Recently, a substantial proportion of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the USA have become infected with SARS-CoV-2, an event regarded as a reverse zoonosis in which the virus presumably was originally spread to deer from humans
      • Tan CCS
      • Lam SD
      • Richard D
      • Owen CJ
      • Berchtold D
      • Orengo C
      • et al.
      Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to animals and potential host adaptation.
      • Palmer MV
      • Martins M
      • Falkenberg S
      • Buckley A
      • Caserta LC
      • Mitchell PK
      • et al.
      Susceptibility of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) to SARS-CoV-2.
      • Kuchipudi SV
      • Surendran-Nair M
      • Ruden RM
      • Yon M
      • Nissly RH
      • Vandergrift KJ
      • et al.
      Multiple spillovers from humans and onward transmission of SARS-CoV-2 inwhite-tailed deer.
      . Deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) can be infected with SARS-CoV-2 experimentally, and infected mice can transmit the virus to uninfected mice of the same species

      Fagre A, Lewis J, Eckley M, Zhan S, Rocha SM, Sexton NR, et al. SARS-CoV-2 infection, neuropathogenesis and transmission among deer mice: Implications for spillback to New World rodents. PLoS Pathog 17(5): e1009585. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1009585.

      ,
      • Griffin BD
      • Chan M
      • Tailor N
      • Mendoza EJ
      • Leung A
      • Warner BM
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission in the North American deer mouse.
      . Whether deer mice or other mice found in nature have become infected is unknown at present. Of interest, certain data indicate that the omicron variant may actually have originated in mice rather than in humans
      • Wei C
      • Shan K-J
      • Wang W
      • Zhang S
      • Huan Q
      • Qian W.
      Evidence for a mouse origin of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant.
      .
      Ixodes scapularis ticks (also known as deer ticks or as blacklegged ticks) frequently feed on field mice (including deer mice), as well as on deer and other animals, raising the question of whether they have become, or will become, infected with SARS-CoV-2. Based on genomic data, I. scapularis, and certain other ectoparasites, would be expected to have an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) similar enough to human ACE sequences for there to be a concern that I. scapularis would be susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2
      • Lam SD
      • Ashford P
      • Diaz-Sanchez S
      • Villar M
      • Gortazar C
      • de la Fuente J
      • et al.
      Arthropod ectoparasites have potential to bind SARS-CoV-2 with ACE.
      . To determine if SARS-CoV-2, or another coronavirus, may have already infected I. scapularis ticks, would require collection of ticks followed by appropriate molecular testing to detect SARS-CoV-2 or another coronavirus, a project that we have recently initiated in the Hudson Valley region of New York State.
      How I. scapularis ticks might become infected with SARS-CoV-2 is unclear. Based on a study of camels infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the Hyalomma dromedarii ticks present on these animals did not demonstrate the presence of MERS-CoV
      • Hermida MG
      • Alhammadi M
      • Almathen F
      • Alnaeem A.
      Lack of detection of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) nucleic acids in some Hyalomma dromedarii infesting some Camelus dromedary naturally infected with MERS-CoV.
      . Although multiple other viruses have been found in or on I. scapularis ticks collected before COVID-19 first appeared in the USA, none was a coronavirus
      • Tokarz R
      • Tagliafierro T
      • Sameroff S
      • Cucura DM
      • Oleynik A
      • Che X
      • et al.
      Microbiome analysis of Ixodes scapularis ticks from New York and Connecticut.
      . To our knowledge, the only Ixodes tick species known to potentially carry a coronavirus is Ixodes uriae, based on a study of ticks that had been collected in Norway
      • Traavik T
      • Mehl R
      • Kjeldsberg E.
      Runde” virus, a coronavirus-like agent associated with seabirds and ticks.
      .
      Only one virus is known to be transmissible to humans when an infected I. scapularis tick takes a blood meal; this virus is the deer tick virus subtype of the Powassan virus. Thus, it would not be surprising if I. scapularis ticks were found to be carrying SARS-CoV-2, that they would not transmit the virus to humans or animals through tick feeding. However, whether mechanical transmission might occur by touching a crushed, or even an intact tick is an open question and would depend on where the virus may be found. Addressing the question of whether SARS-CoV-2 or other coronaviruses can now be identified in or on I. scapularis ticks needs more investigation.

      Author contributions

      GPW wrote draft 1. CSB, AJC, and GPW edited the drafts and approved the final version for submission.

      Funding

      None

      Declaration of Competing Interest

      CSB and AJC—none. GPW reports receiving research grants from the Institute for Systems Biology, Pfizer, Inc., and Biopeptides, Corp. He has been an expert witness in malpractice cases involving Lyme disease and babesiosis; and is an unpaid board member of the non-profit American Lyme Disease Foundation.

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