It seems that humans are not the only creatures at risk of dying covid-19. In recent weeks, Utah has been dealing with mass extinctions on mink farms that health officials believe are linked to a viral pandemic – outbreaks that may have started from contact with infected people. So far, it is estimated that nearly 10,000 minks in Utah have died during these outbreaks within two weeks.
According to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF), these deaths are concentrated among nine fur farms in the state. Shortly before he died, UDAF veterinarian Dean Taylor he said NBC News, these minks experience respiratory symptoms such as difficulty breathing or runny nose and discharge from the eyes, similar to what happens in people with covid-19. As with humans, older minks appear to be more susceptible to death than the coronavirus, he added.
For months, scientists have known that minks and other weasels, such as ferrets, can become infected with the coronavirus that causes covid-19, and that they can catch it from infected people. Unlike cats, dogs and other animals that the virus has infected through human contact, weasels appear to be particularly vulnerable to more serious diseases. This made these animals a useful model to study the virus outside the Petri dish in the lab, but also made them an easy target for the virus in the real world.
In fact, Utah outbreaks are not the first to affect mink farms. Earlier outbreaks in the Netherlands and Spain invited officials there to kill more than 1 millions of minks to prevent further spread of the infection. So far, no mink in Utah has been killed as a precaution during these recent outbreaks, although the affected farms have quarantined. UDAF is also working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to provide more personal protective equipment and training for mink farmers in the state.
As terrible as these hearths he was for mink production the danger to humans seems low. Although humans can spread the virus to minks and other animals, the risk of the animals then spreading the infection back to other susceptible people is thought to be very low, according to the CDC.
However, the original coronavirus strain that became responsible for covid-19 probably came from an unknown animal source, probably bats.