This Common Pest May Give You Coronavirus, Studies Say
They may be great at hiding in your walls, but deer mice could also potentially infect you with COVID.
Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, scientists have discovered that humans are able to infect other animals with the novel coronavirus. So far, this has included everything from pets like cats and dogs to tigers in the Bronx Zoo. But two recent studies have found that some four-legged creatures could return the favor, discovering that one common pest might be able to give you coronavirus: deer mice. While they're luckily a lot smaller than tigers, they're also far more likely to cross your path.
Two teams of researchers have found that the common deer mouse—which is the most abundant mammal in North America—is capable of catching the coronavirus and passing it along to other mice in a laboratory setting, The Washington Post reports. Scientists say that while mice infected with COVID have not yet been observed in nature, the findings open up the possibility that mice could potentially begin a chain of transmission, even to humans.
"It's a statistically unlikely event, but I don't think it's zero," Tony Schountz, an expert in bat-borne viruses at Colorado State University and an author of the second study, told The Washington Post. "If it's persisting in nature here in North America, then there's always going to be that potential risk of contact transmission events from the deer mouse to a human."
The two studies, which are both in pre-print and have yet to be peer-reviewed, have raised questions for researchers as to how such COVID transmissions would take place outside of a lab. The authors of one study released by the Public Health Agency of Canada wrote "the extent to which these observations may translate to wild deer mouse populations remains unclear," saying that more testing would need to be done before it could be established that a wild population of deer mice could transmit COVID-19.
The two studies are not the first to delve into the possibility of mice being infected with coronavirus. A 2004 study found that SARS—a different coronavirus similar to the one that causes COVID-19—found that mice could be infected. And a Chinese study released in June was the first to find that certain mice were capable of being infected with SARS-CoV-2—which was considered good news, as it could help in lab studies.
For now, experts are cautioning scientists working with deer mice to use all proper precautions while handling them to avoid any potential infection. And for more on how to stay on top of where coronavirus is spreading, check out The Surprising New Way You Can Find Out If You've Been Exposed to COVID.