Thousands of mink have died on Utah fur farms after an outbreak of coronavirus among the animals.

Covid-19 first appeared among Utah mink in August, shortly after farm workers contracted the virus, state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor said. 

At least 8,000 mink – bred for their silky, luxurious pelts – have died of the coronavirus in the past ten days.

An estimated 8,000 mink have died in the last 10 days in Utah after an outbreak of the coronavirus at fur farms in the sate. Pictured: Mink on a fur farm

An estimated 8,000 mink have died in the last 10 days in Utah after an outbreak of the coronavirus at fur farms in the sate. Pictured: Mink on a fur farm

The outbreak has caused nine sites in three counties to quarantine, but so far there is no indication the virus can be spread back from animals to humans, Taylor said.

‘We genuinely don’t feel like there is much of a risk going from the mink to the people,’ he said Thursday.

Speaking to CNN, Taylor – who is investigating the outbreak – said: ‘Everything we’ve looked at here in Utah suggests it’s gone from the humans to the animals. It feels like a unidirectional path.’

The outbreak has caused nine sites to enter quarantine in a bid to slow the spread of the disease among the animals that are bred for their fur. It is believed that workers on the farm spread the virus to the mink, and then between different farms

The outbreak has caused nine sites to enter quarantine in a bid to slow the spread of the disease among the animals that are bred for their fur. It is believed that workers on the farm spread the virus to the mink, and then between different farms 

Covid-19 in humans and mink – what’s the link?

Mink appear to suffer similar coronavirus symptoms to humans.

Difficulty breathing and crusting around the eyes are usually seen in the animals if they are infected.

But in mink, the virus spreads far more rapidly, with most infected mink dead by the next day, according to Utah state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor.

Mink appear to be particularly susceptible to the coronavirus because of a protein in their lungs.

According to Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, the presence of this protein appears to predict the vulnerability of a species to the virus.  

The ACE2 receptor has a spike-like protein on its surface which allows SARS-CoV-2 to bind to it.

This provides an entry point into the body for the virus which ultimately causes COVID-19.  

Humans have the same protein in their bodies, meaning the two species – humans and mink – are more susceptible than other animals that have been found to catch the virus.

Dr Taylor said that while it appears mink caught the virus from humans, there is currently no indication that Covid-19 was spreading back from animals to humans. 

The Netherlands reported a similar outbreak and undertook a mink cull after two people were reported to have been infected by mink, though such cases of animal-to-human transmission are believed to be extremely rare.

According to the CDC: ‘Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.’

So far, between 7,000 and 8,000 mink are thought to have died since the disease swept through the ranches that breed the animals, but none have had to be euthanized because of the disease, with Taylor saying it doesn’t appear to be necessary.

Fur from the animals that have died will be processed to destroy any trace of the virus and then used for coats and other fur clothing, according to Fur Commission USA, a mink farming trade group.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the U.S. produces more than 3 million mink pelts each year.

Dr. Taylor declined to disclose the farms or the counties that have been affected by the mink outbreak.

He did say that as with humans, Covid-19 is less deadly to younger mink.

‘It’s going through the breeding colonies and wiping out the older mink and leaving the younger mink unscathed,’ Taylor said, noting that most of the deaths have been in mink between the ages of 1 and 4 years. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 50 animals in the U.S. had tested positive for Covid-19 as of September 2.

Pet cats, dogs as well as lions and tigers at a New York zoo have all been found to have contracted the virus in the US according to USDA data. 

But mink appear to be particularly susceptible to the coronavirus because of a protein in their lungs – the ACE2 receptor – which binds to the virus. Humans also have the same protein in their lungs. 

According to Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, the presence of this protein appears to predict the vulnerability of a species to the virus.

Mink were first found to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, in April after outbreaks at farms in the Netherlands. Further outbreaks at farms in Denmark and Spain followed.

More than one million mink were culled in those countries.

An initial study in the Netherlands appeared to show that the virus could jump between humans and mink in both directions, but data so far remains limited, with cases of animal-to-human transmission believed to be extremely rare. 

At the time, Dutch authorities banned the transport of mink after finding what they believed to be the first case of animal-to-human Covid-19 transmission.

Taylor said it is likely that the virus spread after several workers at the Utah mink farms – who often work at more than one facility – tested positive for the virus.

Utah state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor (pictured) said it was daunting investigating an outbreak of a novel virus in a new species

Utah state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor (pictured) said it was daunting investigating an outbreak of a novel virus in a new species

‘Some of our mink ranchers have more than one facility, and that’s probably how it spread,’ Taylor said. 

Following the news of the outbreak, Utah mink farms took measures to prevent the disease from spreading further.

Access the the sites was restricted, with health checks being done on workers entering the facilities. Efforts to disinfect surfaces were also increased.

The outbreak has led to quarantines at a quarter of Utah’s three-dozen mink ranches and worried many across the state whose livelihood relies on the trade. 

Clayton Beckstead, regional manager for the Utah Farm Bureau and a fourth-generation mink farmer, said  ‘We’re certainly worried, but I think everybody’s taking pretty extreme biosecurity measures.’

In the U.S., there are 245 fur farms in 22 states. The industry is valued at $82.6 million a year, according to Fur Commission USA, with Utah being one of the nation’s top mink producers. 

Taylor described investigating an outbreak of a novel virus in a new species as ‘daunting’, saying ‘We’re learning as quick as we can. We’re scrambling to help these animals and protect this industry.’

Covid-19 first appeared among Utah mink in August, shortly after farm workers contracted the virus, state veterinarian Taylor said

Covid-19 first appeared among Utah mink in August, shortly after farm workers contracted the virus, state veterinarian Taylor said

It was announced last week that Denmark will cull around 1 million mink after finding further coronavirus infections among the animals at farms that breed them for their fur, authorities said.

The Nordic country is the world’s largest producer of mink and had previously culled animals on farms hit by infections, but outbreaks have persisted.

Fresh cases have been registered at 41 mink farms and another 20 were believed affected, totalling up to 1 million minks, Environment and Food Minister Mogens Jensen said at a press briefing on Thursday evening.

As a precaution, the culling will include farms situated within 5 miles of a farm with infected mink.

‘My main focus is on ensuring, that the…mink farms do not become an infection risk for people, and therefore the government has decided to cull the mink,’ Jensen said.

In May, Spain ordered the culling of all 93,000 mink at a farm to prevent human contagion after finding that most of the mink there were infected with the coronavirus.

The Netherlands reported a similar outbreak and undertook a cull after two people were reported to have been infected by mink, though such cases of animal-to-human transmission are believed to be extremely rare.

There have also been occasional cases of zoo animals and house pets coming down with the coronavirus during the global pandemic, with their owners the likely cause of infection. 



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