Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: North Carolina
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

North Carolina Project

SARS-CoV-2 at the human–wildlife interface: Understanding wildlife as potential reservoirs for COVID-19 across urban-rural gradients

January 2022 - February 2023


Participating Agencies

  • North Carolina State University

SARS-CoV-2 is a highly transmissible and pathogenic coronavirus that has led to the COVID-19 pandemic. While vaccines and drugs are reducing mortality rates, the impacts of the virus may persist long-term, especially if non-human reservoirs for the disease create permanent sources of human infection. SARS-CoV-2 antibodies have been documented in numerous wildlife species in North America (e.g., white-tailed deer, rabbits, ferrets); however, it is unclear how prevalent SARS-CoV-2 is across wildlife species and regions, and whether wildlife can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to humans and domestic species. Understanding the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife and how prevalence rates vary across the human-wildlife interface is critically important to evaluate the maintenance and transmission of COVID-19. We are capturing and testing white-tailed deer in North Carolina to investigate SARS-CoV-2 prevalence and the predictors of SARS-CoV-2 across an urban–rural continuum. White-tailed deer are a particularly relevant study species because they are abundant in landscapes as diverse as rural forests and suburban neighborhoods and high prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies (>30%) is documented in other regions of North America. Our proposed study will provide seed data for future proposals that expand these concepts to consider SARS-CoV-2 prevalence across multiple species (e.g., mice, raccoons, coyotes, pets), spatial scales (within and beyond North Carolina), and the socio-economic factors affecting transmission risk.