USDA confirms SARS-CoV-2 in Utah mink

Virus that causes COVID-19 in people confirmed in farmed mink at two Utah farms reporting unusually high mortality.

August 17, 2020

2 Min Read
Utah Department of Agriculture & Food

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) announced Aug. 17 the first confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans) in mink at two farms in Utah.

USDA said these are the first confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 in mink in the U.S., and the affected farms also reported positive cases of COVID-19 in people who had contact with the mink.

After unusually large numbers of mink died at the farms, the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory completed necropsies on several of the affected animals. Samples were forwarded and tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2 at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, USDA reported. Both laboratories are members of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. The presumptive positive samples were then sent to NVSL for confirmatory testing.

“My office is dedicated to containing SARS-CoV-2 by implementing stringent biosecurity measures where needed. We believe that our early detection of the virus will prove beneficial in the long run,” Utah state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor said.

Mink were known to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, as the virus was discovered in mink on multiple farms in the Netherlands, USDA noted.

The affected farms in the Netherlands experienced an increase in mink deaths as well. Affected mink farms have also been identified in Spain and Denmark. USDA has closely monitored these outbreaks and recently issued a document containing guidance for farmed mink in the U.S.

USDA emphasized that "there is currently no evidence that animals, including mink, play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is considered to be low." The agency said more studies are needed to understand how different species may be affected by the virus that causes COVID-19 and whether animals may play a role in the spread of the virus.

NVSL serves as an international reference laboratory and provides expertise and guidance on diagnostic techniques as well as confirmatory testing for foreign and emerging animal diseases, USDA said. Such testing is required for certain animal diseases in the U.S. in order to comply with national and international reporting procedures.

USDA said the World Organization for Animal Health considers SARS-CoV-2 an emerging disease, and therefore, USDA must report confirmed U.S. animal infections to the international agency.

USDA announces cases of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 in animals each time the virus is found in a new species. All confirmed cases in animals in the U.S. are posted at on the agency's website.

According to USDA, people with COVID-19 can spread the virus to animals during close contact, so it is important for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from possible infection.

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