The mink link: How COVID-19 mutations in animals affect human health and vaccine effectiveness

The mink link: How COVID-19 mutations in animals affect human health and vaccine effectiveness

The importance of commercially raised animals in the COVID-19 pandemic has received much attention in the past few weeks, when a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 was detected in farmed mink. Unfortunately, mink tend to be relatively susceptible to respiratory infections, and these can readily spread through mink farms due to high-density housing.

Data from from the Netherlands earlier in the pandemic have revealed that mink can be readily infected with SARS-CoV-2 and then pass the virus to humans. In Denmark, 214 people people have been infected by a variant of SARS-CoV-2 that is presumed to have mutated in Danish mink. Over 200 mink farms had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and at least five different mink variants of the virus have been detected so far.

These events initiated a mass culling of farmed mink in that country (although this was limited due to legal issues), and cast a spotlight on the disturbing scenario of human-to-mink-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2, with potential for the virus to change in mink prior to re-infecting people.

Mink are semi-aquatic mammals that are relatively susceptible to respiratory infections, which can spread through mink farms, like this one in Belarus, due to high-density housing. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)

Specifically, this latest occurrence unveils the possibility that mink can serve as an alternate host to promote mutations of SARS-CoV-2, which can be passed back to humans and other animals, both domestic and wild and potentially placing the wild mustelid (minks, ferrets and related species) population at risk.…

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