Wildlife Officials Remind Hunters to Be Safe When Handling Deer

RALEIGH, NC (November 30, 2021) — The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is reminding hunters to practice safe handling while field dressing and processing harvested deer. This reminder follows in the wake of recent studies in Iowa and Ohio that confirmed infection with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans) in wild deer found in those states. While this type of study has not been conducted in North Carolina, there is no reason to expect that the situation would be different in our state.   

Currently, little is known about SARS-CoV-2 infections in deer or how they become infected.  No symptoms have been reported in infected deer, so biologists are optimistic that it won’t have a major impact on our deer herd.

Officials with the Wildlife Commission are aware that many hunters and the public have concerns as to whether or not infected deer pose a risk to humans.  At present, there have been no reports of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from an infected deer to a person, and risk is thought to be low. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence at this time that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people. The primary risk of infection to humans is from other people, and all persons should adhere to recommendations and strategies outlined by the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

“There is a lot we still don’t know about SARS-CoV-2 infections in deer, but we do know deer can be infected, and that is a good reason for hunters to continue using safe handling practices with their harvested deer,” stated Moriah Boggess, deer biologist with the Wildlife Commission.

Boggess suggests that hunters continue to follow basic safe handling precautions when handling any wild animal they harvest, as has been recommended for many years, including:

  • Do not eat any deer that appears sick.
  • Do not eat the eyes, brain, spinal cord, spleen, tonsils or lymph nodes of any deer.
  • Wear rubber or latex gloves when handling your harvest and wash your hands afterward.
  • Minimize contact with the brain, spinal cord, spleen and lymph nodes.
  • Minimize contact with the respiratory tract, which includes the lungs, trachea, and mouth and nasal cavities.
  • Clean knives and equipment of residue and disinfect with a 50/50 solution of household chlorine bleach and water. 

If you are immunocompromised or at high risk, you may consider asking for assistance with a deer carcass rather than handling it yourself.

According to State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore, “Vaccination is the best way to reduce the risk of COVID-19.  Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are available for everyone 5 years of age and older. To find a vaccination appointment nearby, visit MySpot.nc.gov.”

There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be contracted through food consumption, including venison.  As always, hunters should practice safe venison handling precautions; raw meat should be stored below 40˚F and cooked to at least 165˚F before consumption.

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