US Mink Test Positive for Coronavirus

Outbreaks at farms overseas have led to major culling events.

Close-Up Of Mink
Five minks at two farms in Utah tested positive for the coronavirus. Noomi Bertilsdotter / EyeEm / Getty Images

Mink living on two farms in Utah have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in humans. These are the first confirmed cases of the virus in mink in the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported this week.

Five mink tested positive for the virus after the farms reported an unusually high number of deaths, according to Utah state officials.

In 2018, 3.1 million mink pelts were produced in the U.S. After Wisconsin, Utah farms the most mink, producing 708,000 pelts per year, according to federal data.

Necropsies of the mink were first performed at the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Samples were then tested at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, and those results were confirmed by tests at the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.

According to an industry memo seen by Treehugger, “The farms are bio-secure facilities and are presently in quarantine. Animal and human health protocols are being observed and there is little risk of spread to other farms. It is assumed the mink were exposed by infected employees that may have socialized outside the work environment.”

According to the USDA, several people on the farms have also tested positive for the virus. They were in close contact with the mink.

However, the USDA points out, “There is currently no evidence that animals, including mink, play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is considered to be low.”

Instead, there is a chance that humans may transmit the virus to animals, says the USDA.

“People with COVID-19 can spread the virus to animals during close contact. It is important for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from possible infection.”

Outbreaks Lead to Culling Overseas

Since the SAR-CoV-2 virus first started racing across the globe, scientists also have been tracking its impact on animals. In the U.S. alone, cats, dogs, a tiger, and a lion have all tested positive for the coronavirus.

Researchers knew that mink were also susceptible because of a recent outbreak on multiple farms in the Netherlands, reports the USDA. Affected mink farms were also found in Denmark and Spain. According to Dutch media news reports, more than a million mink were culled since the virus was first found.

“When it comes to preventing the spread of diseases one of the key factors is fixing the unsustainable relationships with other species, and mink are a good example of that,” Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, tells Treehugger.

“More than 1.7 million mink have been killed on infected farms in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Spain. The Netherlands is now considering closing down all its fur farms ahead of a 2024 deadline it had previously set for ending all fur production on its soil."