EL PASO, Texas — Researchers with the University of Texas at El Paso say they have uncovered strong evidence suggesting COVID-19 in Texas white-tailed deer.

Research conducted by the university’s Dr. Douglas Watts was published in “Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Disease,” a peer-reviewed journal focused on diseases transmitted to people by animals.

Watts and his team studied blood samples collected from deer in Travis County during the first two months of 2021. Evidence of neutralizing antibodies was found in more than a third of the samples. COVID-19 additionally appears to be more common among male deer.

Still, Watts said, more research is needed to make determinations about the transmission from animals to humans.

“The one thing we know best about SARS-CoV-2 is its unpredictability,” Watts said. “Therefore, the transmission of the virus from infected deer back to humans, while not likely, may be possible.”

Watts and his team found 37% antibody prevalence among the Texas deer blood samples, which is close to the 40% reported in deer from other states including Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York.

“UTEP works to address challenging issues through its research,” said Robert A. Kirken, Ph.D., dean of the College of Science. “This project is a great example of that because it has the potential to make an impact on the health of people throughout the country.”