European health experts warn that rapid mutations of the coronavirus in minks could lead to a more deadly version of the disease and even render vaccines useless if humans are infected. Mink farms can support a large number of transmissions, which can lead to problematic mutations and potentially infect humans.
The EU health agency has warned that transmission of COVID-19 among mink populations could quickly mutate the virus before it enters the human body.
Such mutations carry the risk that the virus could become more infectious, more lethal, affect the risk of re-infection, or lead to abandonment of promising vaccines in development.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has released new guidelines to curb the spread of coronavirus between mink and humans. The number of infections that can occur on the fur farm means that “the virus can accumulate mutations faster in minks,” the ECDC experts explained.
In Denmark, 214 people were found to have contracted SARS-CoV-2 variants associated with farmed minks, 12 of which had a unique variant. This variant, dubbed “cluster 5,” is believed to have a moderately reduced sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies in both mink and humans.
It is believed that at least 216 Danish fur farms have been infected with the coronavirus, and the Danish authorities have decided to eliminate all 15 million plus animals on 1,139 farms.
It develops as the coronavirus multiplies, but to date, none of its identified mutations appear to have changed the transmissibility or lethality of COVID-19. However, as the ECDC warned, “the creation of a virus reservoir among minks could lead to problematic variants of the virus in the future.”
“Currently there is a high degree of uncertainty and further research is required regarding the nature of these mutations and their implications for issues such as vaccine efficacy, re-infections and […] the spread or severity of the virus, ”added the experts.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has recommended that countries adopt a range of protective measures on mink farms, including regular testing of workers and local residents and – in the event of any COVID-19 infection – sequencing the virus to check for mutations.
The health agency has also called for regular animal testing as well as the introduction of additional precautions to limit the potential spread of the virus from mink to humans. These can include the slaughter of mink and the destruction of skins from infected farms, as well as special precautions for veterinarians, mink producers and their partners in the fur industry.
The ECDC report notes that the risk to the general population from strains of coronavirus associated with minks is likely low, but much higher for those who work with mink and for medically vulnerable people living in areas with a high concentration of fur farms. …
However, the World Health Organization is “far from making any determination” as to whether mutated strains of COVID-19 derived from mink could threaten humans, emergency team leader Michael Ryan said last week.
According to David Hayman, a global health expert at Chatham House think tank, it is unlikely that a mutant strain of coronavirus from a mink farm will change the course of the pandemic. “This virus is present in every country, and it mutates differently in every country,” added a former World Health Organization official.
“The ECDC report sees fur farms as potential virus factories capable of mutating COVID-19 and even disrupting medical progress towards reliable treatments,” said Joanna Swab, Director of Humane Society International / Europe. “The report also confirms the decision of the Danish government to respond to the public health risks associated with the fur trade.”
It should also be “a serious wake-up call for mink-growing countries that are not yet systematically testing minks to take urgent action,” she said.