USDA identifies Utah mink as first wild animal to be infected with COVID-19

USDA identifies Utah mink as first wild animal to be infected with COVID-19

December 22, 2020

A mink in Utah has become the first wild animal to catch COVID-19, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on December 14.

In the US, the virus has killed more than 15,000 farmed mink since August, with the biggest outbreaks in Utah. Some European countries, including Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, and Ireland, have culled their mink populations in a bid to curb outbreaks on farms.

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service found the case while testing wildlife around infected mink farms in Utah, Michigan, and Wisconsin between August and October to see whether the virus had spread.

"To our knowledge, this is the 1st free-ranging, native wild animal confirmed with SARS-CoV-2," the USDA said in the notice, posted on the International Society for Infectious Diseases' ProMed website. The strain of the virus was "indistinguishable" from the one found on mink farms in Utah, it added.

The USDA said it found no evidence that the virus had infected large populations of wildlife around the farms, and noted that other species sampled all tested negative.

Some mink have developed mutated strains of the virus, which they have in some cases infected humans with. But these strains do not seem different or more harmful than the ones humans are already dealing with, Emma Hodcroft, a geneticist at the University of Basel, Switzerland, previously told Business Insider.

The USDA didn't say whether the strain found in the wild mink was a mutated strain.

"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 said in the notice.

The agency informed the World Organization for Animal Health about the case, it said.

In addition to mink, COVID-19 has been identified in other animals including tigers and lions at zoos, as well as pet cats.

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