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New study finds SARS-CoV-2 infection in escaped mink in Utah

February 24, 2021

Evidence of infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been found in escaped farmed mink in Utah, according to a new study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases. 

In August 2020, mink on Utah farms became infected with SARS-CoV-2 and exhibited up to 50% mortality. Questions about whether the virus would spillover from infected U.S. farms into wildlife led to a joint investigation by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and the USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) into the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks on U.S. mink farms. This interagency effort was undertaken to assess risks to people, understand patterns of infection and mortality in farmed mink, and determine whether the virus has spilled over into other domestic, feral, and wild animals found both on and in proximity to infected farms.  

Testing revealed evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in mink that had presumably escaped from farms. This work, which is ongoing, is critical to assess the risk for SARS-CoV-2 establishing reservoirs in feral or wild animals, or for impacting wildlife populations.  

“Interactions or shared resources between escaped mink and wild mink or other wildlife species represent potential transmission pathways for spillover of SARS‑CoV‑2 into wildlife, potentially leading to severe health consequences and establishment of new reservoirs in susceptible wildlife” report the study’s authors, including NWHC’s Hon Ip, Diagnostic Virologist. 

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest the virus that causes COVID-19 is circulating in free-living wildlife in the United States, or that wildlife might be a source of infection for people in the United States. More information about SARS-CoV-2 and wildlife is available from the CDC

“This interagency effort is a great example of the importance of the One Health approach and the connectedness of human, animal, and environmental health,” said Jonathan Sleeman, NWHC Center Director. 

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