Preprint: Widespread wildlife exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in the Eastern United States

Animals, Bats, Coronavirus, Deer, Foxes, Genome, Infection, Mice, Mustelid, Mutation, PCR, Rabbits, Research, Reservoir, Serology, Spillover, Testing, Transmission, USA, Zoonosis

Species that tested PCR positive for SARS-CoV-2 included bobcats, opossums, squirrels, foxes, deer and rabbits. Other species, including raccoons, skunks and mice had positive serology indicating a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection.

We sampled 18 different wildlife species in the Eastern U.S. and detected widespread exposure to SARS-CoV-2 across wildlife species.

Using quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction and whole genome sequencing, we conclusively detected SARS-CoV-2 in the Virginia opossum and had equivocal detections in six additional species.

Species considered human commensals like squirrels, and raccoons had high seroprevalence, ranging between 62%-71%, and sites with high human use had three times higher seroprevalence than low human-use areas.

SARS-CoV-2 genomic data from an infected opossum and molecular modeling exposed previously uncharacterized changes to amino acid residues observed in the receptor binding domain (RBD), which predicts improved binding between the spike protein and human angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE2) compared to the dominant variant circulating at the time of isolation. These mutations were not identified in human samples at the time of collection.

Overall, our results highlight widespread exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife and suggest that areas with high human activity may serve as important points of contact for cross-species transmission. Furthermore, this work highlights the potential role of wildlife in fueling de novo mutations that may eventually appear in humans.


Preprint: Wildlife exposure to SARS-CoV-2 across a human use gradient


Animals that were tested for the study:

Eastern Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)


Raccoon (Procyon lotor)


Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)


Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)


White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus)


Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)


Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)


White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)


Bobcat (Lynx rufus)


Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus)


Groundhog (Marmota monax)


Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)


Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus)


Northern Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda)


Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)


Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)


American Mink (Mustela vison)


Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)




USA: White tailed deer positive for Sars-CoV-2 in New Jersey, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania



H/t Theo Sanderson

Image credits:
Eastern Deer Mouse: Courtesy of Seney Natural History Association, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Raccoon: Clément Bardot, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Virginia Opossum: (Drcyrus), CC BY-SA 2.1 AU, via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Gray Squirrel:  ru:User:Oleg Yunakov, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
White Footed Mouse:  Peterwchen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Striped Skunk: USFWS Mountain-Prairie, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Red Fox:  Joanne Redwood, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
White-Tailed Deer:  Andrew C, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Bobcat: marlin harms, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit: Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Groundhog: Cephas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Chipmunk: Alexis Godin, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Big Brown Bat: Jim Conrad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Northern Short-tailed Shrew: National Park Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Red Bat: Susan Ellis,, CC BY 3.0 US, via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Fox Squirrel: Toadberry, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
American Mink: Patrick Reijnders, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Gray Fox:  ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

** This post was originally published on November 8, 2022 **