A wild mink in Utah has tested positive for the coronavirus. Mink on fur farms in the area have been infected with the virus, and the U.S. Agriculture Department, with other government agencies, was testing wild animals looking for potential infections spreading from those farms.
The department notified the World Organization for Animal Health of the case, stating that this appeared to be the first wild animal to have naturally been infected with the virus, which has infected mink at a number of fur farms worldwide.
The virus has spread from people to mink, and back again in a few instances. A mutated strain of the virus that jumped from mink back to people led Denmark to kill all its mink, wiping out a major industry. No further evidence has supported initial concerns that the mutated variant of the virus might affect the usefulness of vaccines, but scientists are still concerned about how easily the virus can spread on mink farms.
“This is an important reminder that spill back from farms (and from people) into wildlife is also a real thing and needs to be on our radar,” Jonathan Epstein, vice president for science and outreach at EcoHealth Alliance, said of the positive test in the wild mink. Dr. Epstein and other scientists and conservationists have warned about the possibility that the coronavirus could become established in some species of wild animal.
ProMed, an information site run by the International Society for Infectious Diseases, posted a notice from Thomas DeLiberto and Susan Shriner at the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that described the test results.
They said that the positive test showed a virus with the same genome that had been found in infected farmed mink, but noted that one test did not mean that the virus was now spreading in the wild. “There is currently no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is circulating or has been established in wild populations surrounding the infected mink farms. Several animals from different wildlife species were sampled, but all others tested negative,” the statement said.
“Finding a virus in a wild mink but not in other wildlife nearby likely indicates an isolated event, but we should take all such information seriously,” said Tony L. Goldberg of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. He added, “Controlling viruses in people is ultimately the best way to keep them from spreading to animals.”