In August 2021, the USDA confirmed the world's first cases of SARS-CoV-2 in free ranging white-tailed deer in Ohio. The virus (which leads to the illness COVID-19) has been previously detected in wild mink, but this is the first instance of the virus being detected in white-tailed deer. In March, the results of an experimental infection trial demonstrated that white-tailed deer were susceptible to the virus but didn't develop clinical signs of the illness in the laboratory setting. In late July, the USDA released its findings from a multi-state sampling effort that demonstrated free-ranging white-tailed deer in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and developed antibodies but the virus was not detected.

The following information developed by department staff based on the Ohio deer study and the latest public health guidance is provided for your reference.


  • There is no evidence at this time that animals, including deer, play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to people, but caution is recommended.
  • Hunters are encouraged to wear a face covering, eye protection and surgical-type gloves when field dressing or processing a deer out of an abundance of caution.
  • Until more is known, we recommend that hunters field quarter (use gutless method) deer to avoid potential exposure to the virus if it is present in a deer.
  • Public health officials encourage people ages 12 and older to get vaccinated for protection from COVID-19.


What is SARS-CoV-2?

SARS-CoV-2 is the coronavirus that leads to the illness COVID-19. The recently tested deer in Ohio were positive for the virus (SARS-CoV-2) but were not displaying clinical signs of infection, such as respiratory distress.

How were the free ranging deer in Ohio and other states exposed to SARS-CoV-2?

It's unclear at this time. However, it's possible the deer were exposed to the virus through people, the environment, other deer or other animal species.

What other animals have been infected with SARS-CoV-2?

SARS-CoV-2 infections have been reported in a small number of animal species worldwide, mostly in animals that had close contact with a person with COVID-19. These included dogs, cats, tigers, lions, snow leopards, otters, gorillas and minks.

Am I at risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2 from animals?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is considered to be low.

Are Kentucky deer being tested for SARS-CoV-2?

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has submitted 20 deer samples for antibody testing. Results are pending. Animal testing does not reduce the availability of COVID-19 tests for people.

What can be done to limit possible deer to deer transmission of SARS-CoV-2?

Practices such as baiting and feeding that congregate white-tailed deer and other wildlife are commonly associated with an increased risk of disease transmission. Until more is known about the transmission of the virus in white-tailed deer, homeowners and hunters are encouraged to avoid practices intended to congregate or increase deer densities either outside the home or in hunting situations.


Public health experts encourage people ages 12 and older to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

If you are immunocompromised and personal vaccination is not a possibility, consider having someone else assist with carcass handling.

Consider wearing a face covering and eye protection if approaching a wounded deer and when field dressing a deer. As an alternative to traditional field dressing, consider breaking down the animal without ever opening the body cavity (i.e. the gutless approach to field dressing).

What precautions should hunters take when processing a deer?

Public health experts encourage hunters to practice good hygiene when processing animals by following these food safety recommendations:

  • Do not allow contact between wildlife and domestic animals, including pets and hunting dogs.
  • Do not harvest animals that appear sick or are found dead.
  • Keep game meat clean and cool the meat down as soon as possible after harvesting the animal.
  • Avoid cutting through the backbone and spinal tissues and do not eat the brains of wildlife.

When handling and cleaning game:

  • Wear rubber or disposable gloves and eye protection.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke.

When finished handling and cleaning game:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Clean knives, equipment, and surfaces that were in contact with game meat with soap and water and then disinfect them.
  • Cook all game meat and organs thoroughly (to an internal temperature of 165°F or higher).

Can I get SARS-CoV-2 from eating deer meat?

At present, public health experts say there is no evidence that people can get SARS-CoV-2 by eating meat from an animal infected with the virus, including wild game hunted in the United States. Cooking meat and organs, such as the heart, liver and kidneys, to the recommended temperature (165 degrees or higher) greatly reduces any potential risk of consuming potential pathogens.

Who can the public contact for more information?

Contact the Kentucky Department for Public Health for questions about transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from white-tailed deer to people and/or domestic dogs and cats; Call its hotline at 1-800-722-5725

Contact the Kentucky Department of Agriculture for questions about the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to livestock.