Scientists Study COVID-19 Outbreaks Among Minks To Find How Animals Get Infected

Meanwhile, authorities of both countries have killed over 1 million minks at breeding farms as a precaution.

In order to understand the effect of deadly coronavirus on animals and whether they can spread it to people, scientists are conducting a study at mink farms in Spain and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, authorities of both countries have killed over 1 million minks at breeding farms as a precaution.

The virus that first infected people in the Wuhan area of China late last year came from an animal source, probably bats, and later spread from person to person, as other viruses had done in the past. Some animals, including pets like cats and dogs, have picked up the new coronavirus from people, but there hasn’t been a documented case of animals spreading it back to humans.

The outbreaks among the minks on the farms in the Netherlands and Spain likely started with infected workers, although officials aren’t certain. But it also is “plausible” that some workers later caught the virus back from the minks, the Dutch government and a researcher said, and scientists are exploring whether that was the case and how much of a threat such a spread might be.

The outbreak at the Spanish mink farm near La Puebla de Valverde, a village of 500 people, was discovered after seven of the 14 employees, including the owner, tested positive in late May, said Joaquin Olona, regional chief of agriculture and environment. Two other employees got infected even after the operation was shut down.

More than 92,000 minks were ordered killed at the farm in the Aragon region of northeastern Spain, with nine out of 10 animals estimated to have contracted the virus.

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

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

“With the evidence for farmed mink-to-human transmission, we definitely need to be concerned with the potential for domesticated animals that are infected to pass on their infection to us,” Ostfeld said by email.

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health, are studying the transmission of the virus between animals and people. Several universities and research institutes also are examining the issue.

The WHO’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said at a news conference last month that such transmission was “very limited.”

“This gives us some clues about which animals may be susceptible to infection and this will help us as we learn more about the potential animal reservoir of (the virus),” she said, referring to cases in the Netherlands and Denmark, another major producer of mink fur.

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