Utah mink first known case of COVID virus in wild animal

A mink, like the one pictured above, is the first known case of the virus that causes COVID-19 in a wild animal. Credit: tsaiproject

A mink in Utah has become the first confirmed case of a wild animal infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

ProMED, a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases, released on Friday an email from Thomas DeLiberto and Susan Shriner at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that described the test results.

“To our knowledge, this is the first free-ranging, native wild animal confirmed with SARS-CoV-2,” they wrote.

They said the incident appears to be isolated, and researchers have found no evidence that the virus is spreading in wild populations. “Several animals from different wildlife species were sampled, but all others tested negative,” they wrote.

The mink (Neovison vison) was discovered near an infected mink farm as part of an epidemiological study conducted around mink farms in Utah, Michigan and Wyoming between Aug. 24 and Oct. 30 as part of One Health investigations involving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Geological Survey and state agencies. The virus genome in the wild mink sample “was indistinguishable” from samples obtained from the infected farmed mink, DelLiberto and Shriner wrote.

APHIS notified the World Organization for Animal Health of the detection, which was uncovered in a nasal swab test, according to the announcement.

Outbreaks of the virus have been reported at mink farms in the U.S., the Netherlands and Denmark, but this is the first known case of it occurring in any animal in the wild. Other captive species, including lions, tigers and snow leopards have contracted the virus in captivity.

“To prevent the potential establishment of a virus reservoir, efforts to prevent SARS-CoV-2 introduction into and spread within the large North American wild mink population, as well as elsewhere, are warranted,” DelLiberto and Shriner wrote.

“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, told the New York Times.

David Frey is managing editor at The Wildlife Society. Contact him at dfrey@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about his article. Read more of David's articles here.

You can follow him on Twitter at @davidmfrey.


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