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OKLAHOMA (KFOR) – An Oklahoma State University Extension wildlife specialist is easing fears about eating venison ahead of deer gun hunting season, after some white-tailed deer tested positive for COVID-19.

“There really is no reason for a hunter to be concerned about consuming meat from an infected white-tailed deer,” said Dr. Dwayne Elmore, an OSU Extension wildlife specialist.

Recently, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation said COVID-19 was spotted during a herd-health study.

“We take deer, different samples, and test them for a bunch of different diseases. In 2020 and 2021, some of those did return positive for COVID-19,” said Micah Holmes with the department.

With only one week to go before deer gun hunting season, some are worried about eating tainted meat and catching the virus.

“Eating meat from an infected animal is little to no risk. The virus is neutralized by cooking and stomach acids are going to kill it anyway,” said the doctor. “COVID is respiratory, so it’s going to be transmitted by breathing in the same space as an animal or you could touch respiratory droplets and then touch your face.”

But processing the meat can be a different animal. Dr. Elmore suggests you take precautions while butchering.

“You should always wear gloves and throw those gloves away when you’re done handling the animal,” said Dr. Elmore. “Might wear a mask just in case there are any droplets floating in the air. That’s not just because of COVID, but there’s other potential diseases that they might come in contact with.”

Right now, scientists don’t know how many Oklahoma deer have COVID-19 or how they got it. It could have been from a human or another animal.

“It’s probably similar in deer than it is in humans, direct contact. Nose to nose or breathing in the same space,” he said. “We know at least the strains that have been detected in deer match the ones in humans.”

“If someone’s concerned about this, just follow the CDC’s guidance and get vaccinated.”

KFOR News called several different meat processing facilities. Many said they haven’t heard about COVID-19 in deer and weren’t too worried about catching the virus from processing the animal.