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Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19) in humans, has a broad host range, and is able to infect domestic and wild animal species. Notably, white-tailed deer (WTD, Odocoileus virginianus ) the most widely distributed cervid species in the Americas was shown to be highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 with reported natural infection rates approaching 40% in wild WTD populations in the U.S. Thus, understanding the infection and transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 in WTD is critical to prevent future zoonotic transmission to humans and for implementation of effective disease control measures. Here, we demonstrated that following intranasal inoculation with SARS-CoV-2, deer fawns shed infectious virus up to day 5 post-inoculation (pi), with high viral loads shed in nasal and oral secretions. This resulted in efficient deer-to-deer transmission on day 3 pi. Consistent with lack of infectious SARS-CoV-2 shedding after day 5 pi, no transmission was observed to contact animals added on days 6 and 9 pi. We have also investigated the tropism and sites of SARS-CoV-2 replication in WTD. Active virus replication was observed in respiratory-, lymphoid-, and central nervous system tissues, indicating broad tissue tropism and multiple target sites of virus replication during acute infection. The study provides important insights on the infection and transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 in WTD, a wild animal species that is highly susceptible to infection and with the potential to become a reservoir for the virus in the field.

Competing Interest Statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Paper in collection COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 preprints from medRxiv and bioRxiv

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