SARS-CoV-2 Neutralizing Antibodies in Free-Ranging Fallow Deer (Dama dama) and Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) in Suburban and Rural Areas in SpainPaloma Encinas, Alba Escalera, Teresa Aydillo, Irene Iglesias, Martha I. Nelson, Adolfo García-Sastre, Gustavo del Real
- General Veterinary
- General Immunology and Microbiology
- General Medicine
Effective control of zoonotic infectious diseases requires identifying the animal species involved in the infectious cycle as transmitters or reservoirs where the pathogen could persist and evolve, increasing the risk of reintroduction of new variants in humans and animals. Multiple surveillance studies have detected the presence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) or specific antibodies in free-ranging white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in North America, being the wild mammal species with the most reported cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, so far, all attempts to detect the infection in European cervids have been unsuccessful. In this study, we demonstrated the presence of specific antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in European fallow deer (Dama dama) and red deer (Cervus elaphus) in Spain. However, all samples of European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), taxonomically related to the American white-tailed deer, were seronegative for the virus. We tested 215 serum samples from roe deer (n = 116), red deer (n = 63), and fallow deer (n = 36) collected in eight provinces of central-southern Spain between 2017 and 2022. We first screened sera by a surrogate virus neutralization test (sVNT) ELISA based on the binding of the receptor-binding domain of SARS-CoV-2 to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor and then confirmed positive samples by a conventional virus neutralization test (cVNT) against the Alpha, Delta, and Omicron variants. Four fallow deer and two red deer samples were seropositive in both neutralization assays. Four samples of fallow deer and one of red deer, collected in a suburban park near Madrid in February 2022, had antibodies against the Alpha, Delta, and Omicron variants, while a seropositive sample of red deer, collected in a rural area in February 2021, was specific for the Delta variant. All samples collected before the start of the pandemic in Spain were seronegative for sVNT, which also indicates that there are not cross-reactive antibodies potentially elicited by other viruses antigenically related to SARS-CoV-2. The results indicate probable human-to-deer transmission of SARS-CoV-2, but do not clarify whether there was subsequent spread within herds.