Scientists study coronavirus outbreaks in mink on breeding farms in Europe

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The coronavirus outbreaks in mink farms in Spain and the Netherlands have prompted scientists to determine how animals got infected and if they can transmit it to humans.In the meantime, authorities have killed more than a million mink on breeding farms in both countries as a precaution.

The virus that first infected people in China late last year came from an animal source, likely bats, and then spread from person to person, such as other coronaviruses have done so in the past. Some animals, including cats, tigers and dogs, have caught the novel coronavirus from humans, but there have been no documented cases of animals transmitting it to humans.

Outbreaks among mink on farms in the Netherlands and Spain, where animals are raised for fur, likely started with workers infected, although those responsible are not sure. But it’s also “plausible” that some workers later caught the virus from mink, the Dutch government and a researcher said, and scientists are exploring if this was the case and what threat such a spread could pose.

The outbreak at the Spanish mink farm near La Puebla de Valverde, a village of 500 residents, was discovered after seven of 14 employees, including the owner, tested positive for COVID-19 in late May, Joaquin said Olona, ​​regional head of agriculture. and the environment. Two other employees were infected even after the operation was stopped.

9 out of 10 mink infected in a single establishment

More than 92,000 mink were killed at the farm in the Aragon region in northeastern Spain, with nine out of 10 animals reportedly contracting the virus.

After the outbreaks in the Netherlands began in April, Professor Wim van der Poel, a veterinarian who studies viruses at Wageningen University and research, determined that the viral strain in animals was similar to that which circulated in humans.

“We assumed it was possible that it could be transmitted to people again,” the virus expert said, and that’s what appears to have happened with at least two of the workers infected.

Richard Ostfeld, a researcher at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY, said if confirmed, these would be the first known cases of animal-to-human transmission.

Potential for transmission from mink to humans

“With the evidence for transmission from mink to farmed humans, we absolutely need to be concerned about the potential for infected pets to pass their infection on to us,” Ostfeld said via email.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said some coronaviruses infecting animals can spread to humans and then spread between people, but said it was rare.

The World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health, based in Paris, are studying the transmission of the virus between animals and humans. Several universities and research institutes are also examining the issue.

WHO noted that transmission in mink farms could have occurred in both directions. But WHO’s Dr Maria Van Kerkhove told a press conference last month that such transmission was “very limited”.

“This gives us clues about which animals might be infected, and it will help us learn more about the potential animal reservoir of [the virus]She said, referring to cases in the Netherlands and Denmark, another large producer of mink fur.

While scientists believe the virus originated in bats, it may have passed through another animal before infecting humans. A WHO team is currently in China and plans to study the issue.

More than 1.1 million mink have been killed on 26 Dutch breeding farms which have recorded outbreaks, according to the Dutch Food and Consumer Safety Authority. The government announced Thursday that minks from a 27th farm were also infected and would be killed.

The Netherlands, with some 160 mink farms, is the world’s fourth largest fur producer after Denmark, China and Poland, according to Wim Verhagen, director of the Dutch Federation of Fur Breeders. Spain has 38 active mink breeding establishments, most of them in the north-west of Galicia.

Spain and the Netherlands have tightened hygiene protocols in mink farms and banned the transport of animals and visits to buildings where they are kept.

China, which produces about a third of the mink fur market, and the United States have not reported any outbreaks of the virus in mink or in animals on other farms.

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