COVID-19 Killing Large Numbers of Mink at Fur Farms

There have been large outbreaks of COIVD-19 among mink at fur farms in Utah, Wisconsin, and Michigan, leading to widespread deaths of the animals.

The outbreak was first noticed in Utah in August. Ten thousand mink have now died in Utah fur farms, a spokesperson from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) told CBS News on Friday.

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This week Wisconsin, the largest fur-producing state, became the second state to confirm a Covid-19 outbreak among their mink population, with one farm affected so far.

Two thousand mink in the one farm – which is now under quarantine – have died, the channel reported.

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On Wednesday a third state, Michigan, confirmed that mink there had tested positive too.

A major concern with mink outbreaks is that secondary infection from mink to humans has been confirmed.

An article published in Nature’s Scientific Reports suggests that many mammalian species are likely susceptible to the virus. According to a University College of London press release announcing the study’s publication,

The study, published in Scientific Reports, reports evidence that 28 animals regularly in contact with people may be susceptible to infection.

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The focus of the investigation was whether mutations in the ACE2 protein in 215 different animals, that make it different from the human version, would reduce the stability of the binding complex between the virus protein and host protein. Binding to the protein enables the virus to gain entry into host cells; while it is possible the virus might be able to infect animals via another pathway, it is unlikely based on current evidence that the virus could infect an animal if it cannot form a stable binding complex with ACE2.

The researchers found that for some animals, such as sheep and great apes (chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, and bonobo, many of which are endangered in the wild), the proteins would be able to bind together just as strongly as they do when the virus infects people. Some of the animals, such as sheep, have not yet been studied with infection tests, so this does not confirm that the animal can indeed be infected.

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Co-author Professor Joanne Santini (UCL Structural & Molecular Biology) said: “To protect animals, as well as to protect ourselves from the risk of one day catching Covid-19 from an infected animal, we need large-scale surveillance of animals, particularly pets and farm animals, to catch cases or clusters early on while they’re still manageable.

“It may also be important to employ hygiene measures when dealing with animals, similar to the behaviours we’ve all been learning this year to reduce transmission, and for infected people to isolate from animals as well as from other people.”

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