Serological screening in wild ruminants in Germany, 2021/22: No evidence of SARS‐CoV‐2, bluetongue virus or pestivirus spread but high seroprevalences against Schmallenberg virus
Wildlife animals may be susceptible for multiple infectious agents of public health or veterinary relevance, thereby potentially forming a reservoir that bears the constant risk of re-introduction into the human or livestock population. Here, we serologically investigated 493 wild ruminant samples collected in the 2021/22 hunting season in Germany for the presence of antibodies against the severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and four viruses pathogenic for domestic ruminants, namely the orthobunyavirus Schmallenberg virus (SBV), the reovirus bluetongue virus (BTV) and ruminant pestiviruses like bovine viral diarrhoea virus or border disease virus. The animal species comprised fallow deer, red deer, roe deer, mouflon and wisent. For coronavirus serology, additional 307 fallow, roe and red deer samples collected between 2017 and 2020 at three military training areas were included. While antibodies against SBV could be detected in about 13.6% of the samples collected in 2021/22, only one fallow deer of unknown age tested positive for anti-BTV antibodies and all samples reacted negative for antibodies against ruminant pestiviruses. In an ELISA based on the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of SARS-CoV-2, 25 out of 493 (5.1%) samples collected in autumn and winter 2021/22 scored positive. This sero-reactivity could not be confirmed by the highly specific virus neutralization test, occurred also in 2017, 2018 and 2019, i.e. prior to the human SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and was likewise observed against the RBD of the related SARS-CoV-1. Therefore, the SARS-CoV-2-seroreactivity was most likely induced by another, hitherto unknown deer virus belonging to the subgenus Sarbecovirus of betacoronaviruses.