The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is puzzled, but not alarmed by reports that about one-third of deer tested in four states were positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

State DNR biologists were surprised by a federal study in Pennsylvania and three other states that showed roughly three out of every 10 deer have been exposed to the virus. They suspect results could be similar in West Virginia.

"A bit unusual. We weren't expecting that,” DNR Wildlife Resources Chief Paul Johansen said. “Quite honestly, it created more questions than it did answers and we'll be following up with our colleagues."

Johansen said there's enough in the initial studies to justify continued surveillance of deer, but not enough to discourage hunting white-tailed deer.

A deer hunting season that puts more than 200,000 hunters in the West Virginia woods is only a few months away. The hunting season pumps about $270 million into the state’s economy each year. There's no indication at this point that you can get COVID from eating deer meat, but officials’ advice remains the same: if an animal looks like it's sick, don't eat it.

"No, no need for undue hysteria at this point at all,” Johansen said. “We are gathering more information and doing some more surveillance work. Practicing those good hygiene techniques: washing your hands, those sorts of things and then. I always urge folks during the current situation to consider getting a vaccination.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in the study there is no evidence that animals – including deer – are playing a significant role in the spread of the virus. Based on current information, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low.