(KRON) — SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was detected for the first time in free-ranging California wildlife, according to state officials.

A mule deer buck in El Dorado County was confirmed to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday.

In California, SARS-CoV-2 has been confirmed in pets and zoo animals, but never in free-ranging wildlife before.

The deer did not show any outward signs of illness. The deer was harvested in 2021 by a hunter and later tested for disease by CDFW.

After reports of SARS-CoV-2 detections in free-ranging white-tailed deer and mule deer in other states and Canadian provinces, CDFW began testing archived deer samples for SARS-CoV-2. CDFW submitted archived samples from 170 black-tailed and mule deer collected in 2020 and 209 black-tailed and mule deer collected in 2021. Testing for SARS-CoV-2 was conducted at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis.

“Deer can be infected with SARS-CoV-2 and that they can pass it to other deer but do not get sick,” said Dr. Brandon Munk, senior wildlife veterinarian with CDFW. “We do not see SARS-CoV-2 as a threat to our deer populations but we continue to work with partners to better understand what, if any, significance SARS-CoV-2 infections in wildlife may pose to wildlife and people. This is certainly another reminder not to intentionally feed deer. Artificially congregating deer increases the likelihood of spreading disease and may be a source of SARS-CoV-2 exposure for deer.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is considered low.

There is no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 by eating meat from an infected animal. Nonetheless, hunters are encouraged to take precautions when handling meat and practice good food hygiene.