Ranchers in Utah lost at least 8,000 mink to a Covid-19 outbreak among animals known for their silky, luxurious pelts.
The virus first appeared in the creatures in August, shortly after farm workers fell ill in July, according to Dean Taylor, Utah’s state veterinarian. Initial studies show that the virus was transmitted from humans to animals and no cases to the contrary have been found to date.
“Everything we’ve seen here in Utah suggests it went from people to animals,” Taylor told CNN.
“It feels like a one-way path,” he said, adding that testing is still ongoing.
A context: This is the first mink outbreak in the US, although other cases have been noted in the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Minks, which are closely related to weasels, otters, and ferrets, appear to have symptoms similar to humans. Difficulty breathing and crusts around the eyes are usually seen, but the virus progresses rapidly and most infected mink are dead the next day, according to Taylor. It’s unclear what makes mink such a susceptible species while not affecting others seem to be.
Minks only join cats, dogs, a tiger and a lion to be the only confirmed animals with Covid-19 in the US, according to USDA data.
The number of cases in Utah has expanded to nine farms, but Taylor warns that “we are still in the middle of the outbreak”. Every operation is under quarantine, with only essential workers allowed on site. Farm workers are instructed to use appropriate protective equipment at all times.
Most of the mink that died from the virus had their pelts contained and buried or burned. According to Taylor, no skins have left the state.