Thought to be largely eradicated in the U.S., malaria has been discovered in whitetail deer.
Low levels of malaria have infected whitetail deer in ten southeast states, according to a research recently published in the journal Science Advances.
Experts say this particular malaria parasite species is not able to affect or cause disease in humans, but fear other mammals could be infected based on the results.
The researchers tested 308 whitetail deer from 17 states, as well as elk, pronghorn, black-tailed, and mule deer. They found 41 infected animals, all whitetails.
The exact locations weren’t readily available, but from the looks of the information gathered, the states affected were Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois.
In the map below, the red star indicates the original sampling location for the malaria parasite species from a single sample in Tyler County, Texas. Sites from which positive infections were discovered are indicated in red. Black sites denote negative tests.
The CDC says there are more than 100 species of malaria, but that only four have been proven to infect humans. Since the detectable species found to be infecting whitetails is extremely old (likely about 23 million years), enough time had passed to believe it is one of the many that humans can breath easy about.
“At this stage, there seems to be no health risk to humans,” study co-author Robert Fleischer said in a Popular Science interview. “There is always some chance for things to change in the future, although I think it is highly unlikely to make the leap.”
On-going research will hopefully help turn up more information on the now-assumed chronic stage infection.