More than 15,000 minks in the United States have died from the coronavirus since August, and authorities are quarantining about a dozen farms while they investigate the cases, state agriculture officials said.
Global health officials see the animals as a potential risk to humans after Denmark launched a plan last week to eliminate all 17 million mink. A mutated strain of coronavirus could spread to humans and dodge future COVID-19 vaccines.
The U.S. states of Utah, Wisconsin and Michigan, where the coronavirus killed minks, have announced that they will not kill animals and are monitoring the situation in Denmark.
“We believe that the quarantine of affected mink farms in addition to the implementation of strict biosecurity measures will succeed in controlling SARS-CoV-2 at these locations,” the US Department of Agriculture told Reuters on Tuesday.
The USDA said it is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state officials, and the mink industry to test and monitor infected farms.
In the US, 359,850 minks were bred to produce babies called kits, and 2.7 million pelts were produced last year. Wisconsin is the largest mink producing state, followed by Utah.
Sick mink in Wisconsin and Utah has been exposed to people with likely or confirmed COVID-19 cases, the USDA said. In Michigan, according to the authority, it is not yet known whether the mink has been infected by humans.
In Utah, the first US state to confirm mink infections in August, approximately 10,700 minks have died on nine farms, said Dean Taylor, state veterinarian.
“With all nine, everything still points to a one-way trip from humans to minks,” he said.
Coronavirus tests have been conducted on mink that are dying and randomly on the affected farms, Taylor said. Like humans, some mink are asymptomatic or lightly affected, he said.
The CDC said it supports the state’s investigation into sick mink, including testing on animals and humans.
“These studies will help us learn more about the dynamics of transmission between mink, other farm animals and humans,” said the CDC. “There is currently no evidence that animals play an important role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to humans.”
The coronavirus is believed to have first jumped from animals in China to people, possibly via bats or some other animal in a food market in Wuhan, although many questions remain unanswered.
Monitoring the U.S. mink for virus symptoms and quarantining infected farms should limit the spread of the disease if cases are detected early, said Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
“I’m pretty confident they should be able to prevent the spread as long as this surveillance is in place and it is strong enough,” he said.
The US authorities are urging farmers to wear protective clothing such as masks and gloves when handling mink to avoid infection of the animals.
About 5,000 mink have died on two farms in Wisconsin, state veterinarian Darlene Konkle said.
A farm is composting the dead mink to dispose of the carcasses without spreading the virus, Konkle said. Authorities are working with the second farm to determine how to dispose of the mink and dead animals are being kept in a metal container in the meantime, she said.
Michigan declined to disclose how many mink died, citing privacy regulations.
State officials said they are working with the USDA to see if farmers can sell the pelts to infected mink. Fur coats and other items are made from the skins.
The coronavirus has also infected cats, dogs, a lion and a tiger, according to the USDA. Experts say mink appears to be the most vulnerable animal to date.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)