Covid-19 mink variants discovered in humans in seven countries | Environment


Seven countries are now reporting Sars-CoV-2 mutations linked to mink in humans, according to a new scientific analysis.The mutations are identified as Covid-19 mink variants as they have been found repeatedly in mink and now also in humans.

Uncertainty surrounding the implications of the discovery of a Covid-19 mink variant in humans led Denmark, the world’s largest producer of mink fur, to launch a nationwide cull earlier this month.

The slaughter was triggered by research by Denmark’s public health agency, the Statens Serum Institut (SSI), which showed that a variant of mink called C5 was more difficult for antibodies to neutralize and posed a threat potential for vaccine efficacy.

Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, the Faroe Islands, Russia and the United States have all reported cases of mutations linked to mink.

Despite a political backlash, the slaughter continued and farmers have until midnight Thursday to slaughter all the mink in the country. However, the dispute over the slaughter forced the resignation of Danish Agriculture Minister Mogens Jensen.

SSI director Kåre Mølbak also said he would step down. It was SSI’s findings on reduced antibody effectiveness that led to the slaughter order. Mølbak told local media he was retiring because he was 65 and denied it was related to mink slaughter.

So far, there had been no widespread reports of mink variants in humans outside of Denmark. But scientists uploading information about virus sequencing and variants to Gisaid, a global database initiative, said there were signs of mink variants around the world.

“We knew there were these mink variants in seven countries, but we only had about 20 genomes of each, which is very few. Then last week, the Danes uploaded 6,000 genomic sequences and with those we were able to identify 300 or more of the mink variant Y453F in viruses that infected humans in Denmark, ”said François Balloux, director of University of London Institute of Genetics (UCL).

Asked about the implications of the results, Balloux said it was an indication of the need to slaughter farmed mink. “A larger host reservoir means more infections in humans. The main point here, I think, is that while the mutation isn’t scary, there are still very good reasons to get rid of the mink tank. We just don’t need it. In Denmark, he added, they have a lot of mink, “more than three times as many as humans”.


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