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Coronavirus creeps into US mink farms, “unusually larger numbers” dead

Enlarge / Coronavirus has swept through mink farms in Europe. Getty | Viktor Drachev

The pandemic coronavirus has made its way onto two mink farms in Utah, leading to “unusually large numbers” of dead animals, according to a Tuesday announcement by the US Department of Agriculture.

These are the first reported cases of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, infecting mink in the country. For months, authorities in European countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Spain, have reported outbreaks in mink pelt farms, leading to the culling of more than a million of the soft, furry mammals. From laboratory experiments, its also clear that ferrets, a relative of minks, are also readily infected with the novel coronavirus.

The affected farms in Utah reported cases of COVID-19 in people working on the farms, who may have spread the infection to the animals.

There are concerns that some mink may have asymptomatic infections and could act as a reservoir, continuing to spread the virus to other mink and, potentially, to humans. Authorities in the Netherlands have reported that farm workers may have contracted the virus from infected mink. However, the evidence is not definitive and, even if the virus can jump from mink to humans, its unclear how easily that happens.

“There is currently no evidence that animals, including mink, play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans,” the USDA said in its announcement. “Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is considered to be low.”

Dean Taylor, Utahs state veterinarian, told The Washington Post that, for now, the affected mink farms have no plans to cull their animals.

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