First Wild Animal Infected With Coronavirus In United States Found In Utah
A wild mink in Utah has tested positive for the coronavirus. This marks the first time a wild animal has been found carrying the disease in the United states.
COVID-19 was already known to spread swiftly throughout mink held captive on fur farms, as seen in Denmark and Utah. The USDA has been screening mink in farms in Utah, Michigan and Wisconsin for months.
So far, only one wild mink found near a farm in Utah has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
“The USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) has confirmed SARS-CoV-2 by real time RT-PCR and sequencing of a nasal swab collected from a free-ranging, wild mink sampled in Utah,” wrote Thomas DeLiberto and Susan Shriner of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in a public statement. “To our knowledge, this is the 1st free-ranging, native wild animal confirmed with SARS-CoV-2.”
According to the NVSL, the sample taken from the wild mink by a nasal swab appears to carry the same virus found in infected mink on farms around the state.
Despite the discovery, officials are still confident that the coronavirus is not being passed on to other animals in large numbers from these farms.
“There is currently no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is circulating or has been established in wild populations surrounding the infected mink farms,” the USDA wrote.
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Researchers in the Netherlands discovered minks were susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and coronavirus disease in April. According to Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, minks carry a protein in their lungs called the ACE2 receptor that binds with the COVID-19 virus, and could be the reason the disease is now devastating the species.
Coincidentally, humans also carry the ACE2 receptor.
Labeling it a necessary safety measure, the government of Denmark aims to cull 17 million mink before the disease spreads further. Emma Hodcroft, virologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Basel, in Switzerland, said this approach may cause more harm than help. As she wrote on Twitter, we still don’t know how dangerous the mutated COVID-19 virus in minks is.
“If Denmark believes this is serious enough to kill their entire mink population,” Hodcroft tweeted, “one would perhaps also conclude that this [is] serious enough to pass on the information about these mutations to scientists worldwide as quickly as possible to see if variants are found elsewhere.”
The same type of mass-scale slaughter has not yet been proposed in the U.S. Whether it will be or not, the fact remains that the spread of coronavirus disease among mink is accelerated by the unsanitary and inhumane practices of the fur industry.
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