A wild mink living near an infected fur farm in Utah has become the first wild animal to test positive for COVID-19.
“To our knowledge, this is the 1st free-ranging, native wild animal confirmed with SARS-COV-2,” the International Society for the Infectious Diseases said in an announcement on Sunday.
“There is currently no evidence that SARS-COV-2 is circulating or has been established in wild populations surrounding the infected mink farms. Several animals from different wildlife species were sampled, but all others tested negative.”
State Veterinarian Dean Taylor told The Salt Lake Tribune that the infections were likely spread from the workers at the farms to the animals; there is no evidence at this time that the animals are spreading the virus to humans.
“We genuinely don’t feel like there is much of a risk going from the mink to the people,” Taylor has said.
The wild mink’s positive test comes after thousands of minks at Utah fur farms died in from the disease and forced nine farms to quarantine, as The Associated Press reported in October.
The wild mink was infected with a variant of the coronavirus that was “indistinguishable” from viruses taken from nearby farmed minks. https://t.co/DDe3NiDJYE
— Science News (@ScienceNews) December 17, 2020
Between 7,000 and 8,000 minks died as the disease swept through the farms that make coats and other garments from the fur.
“It’s going through the breeding colonies and wiping out the older mink and leaving the younger mink unscathed,” Taylor said at the time.
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post that the newest positive test is “yet another pressing reason why the United States needs to end all mink fur farming without further delay.”
“This is the first report of a wild mink testing positive for the virus anywhere in the world, and it signals the disturbing likelihood that intensive confinement farms where minks suffer and die for their pelts are now the source of potential harm to mink in the wild,” she wrote.
Block said that 11 countries — and four U.S. states: Wisconsin, Oregon, Utah and Michigan — have reported having mink on fur farms test positive for the virus.
Minks were discovered to be susceptible to the coronavirus earlier this year when there were outbreaks at several farms in the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain, The Tribune reported.
The animal is thought to be vulnerable to the disease because of the ACE2 receptor protein in its lungs. Humans have this same protein.
“Scientists have worried that the coronavirus would be passed from escaped factory-farmed mink to wild mink,” Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program, told The Tribune.
“Given the risk that this nightmare scenario is unfolding in Utah, we urge officials in every state with mink farms to take aggressive measures to ensure that this horrible disease does not decimate wildlife populations.”
Other animals that have tested positive for the virus include pet cats and dogs, as well as lions and tigers living at a New York zoo.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.