The coronavirus outbreak has been ravaging the minks in various fur farms in Wisconsin and Utah, killing about 12,000 of these little creatures.
According to a Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) spokesperson, the outbreak started in August in Utah where 10,000 minks have already died. In July, farmworkers contracted the virus, so Utah's state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor believes the virus was transmitted from humans to animals as they have not yet known a case the other way around.
"Everything we've looked at here in Utah suggests its gone from the humans to the animals," Taylor told CNN adding that the outbreak "feels like a unidirectional path."
While earlier this week, the outbreak crossed over Wisconsin where one farm has already been affected and is now in quarantine after 2,000 of the minks it breeds have already died. It became the second state with a confirmed Covid-19 outbreak among minks.
As the nation's biggest producer of fur, the outbreak would be greatly devastating in the fur industry and the state's economy. More so, it would greatly affect the population of mink, in case the outbreak was not effectively contained and spread across the state.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) in Wisconsin vowed said that new measures are already in place for the minks' safe "carcass disposal, cleaning and disinfecting the animal areas, and protecting human and animal health."
Meanwhile, Michigan has announced on Wednesday, October 7, that there are minks in the stated that have also tested positive for COVID-19.
Mink mortality in Europe
In Spain and the Netherlands, authorities have already killed over 1 million minks at breeding farms, according to Medical Express. This was a precautionary measure as about 9 out of 10 minks are believed to have contracted the virus. Both Spanish and Dutch governments have shutdown mink breeding farms because of the outbreak.
While scientists are looking at how the animals got the virus, these outbreaks likely to have started with workers who were infected by COVID-19, but they are also studying if the animal-to-human transmission is also possible.
Human-to-mink COVID-19 transmission case
The mink COVID-19 outbreaks in the Netherlands began in April, Wageningen University and Research professor Wim van der Poel confirmed out that the virus strain found in the animals was the same as the one affecting humans.
This week, University College London (UCL) researchers found that 26 types of animals, including sheep, horses, and pigs are likely to be susceptible to acquiring COVID-19. They urged authorities to further monitor and investigate the matter. Researchers claim minks are highly susceptible to coronavirus because of a unique protein found in their lungs.
Also, UCL Structural and Molecular Biology Professor Christine Orengo said that they aim to look beyond the animals that were studied experimentally to find how animals are at risk of infection. "The animals we identified may be at risk of outbreaks that could threaten endangered species or harm the livelihood of farmers," said Orengo who is the study's lead author.
While most deaths are among older minks of about one to four years old, younger mink are less susceptible to the virus. Affected minks usually experience difficulty in breathing. However, the illness quickly progresses and killed the infected minks by the following day.
Calls to fur industry shutdown
Currently, it is still unclear how wide the scale of the outbreak is since it is impossible to test every single mink in fur farms. There are about 275 mink farms across 23 states in the U.S. The industry produces three million pelts every year amounting to more than $300 million annually.
The Fur Commission USA that represents the mink breeders confirmed that furs from infected minks are still being commercially used, but strictly processed to remove all virus traces before it is utilized for clothing.
Meanwhile, the Humane Society of the United States already called for the shutdown of the US fur industry. "Fur farms are miserable places for wild animals like mink," said U.S. Humane Society president and CEO Kitty Block adding that the outbreak has intensified the suffering of these animals.
"The only way to end the dual problems of pandemic outbreaks on fur farms and the animal suffering inherent in fur farming is to close down this industry for good," she noted.
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Written by CJ Robles