Coronavirus confirmed in mink at Oregon fur farm

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Mink look out from their cage at the farm of Henrik Nordgaard Hansen and Ann-Mona Kulsoe Larsen, who have to kill off their herd which consists of 3000 mother mink and their cubs on their farm near Naestved, Denmark. Denmark announced special restrictions for more than 280,000 people in the country’s northwest after a mutated version of the new coronavirus linked to mink farms was found in humans. (Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

PORTLAND, O.R. (KOIN) — Authorities have confirmed the first cases of SARS-CoV-2 in mink at a fur farm in Oregon.

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans. Mink seem especially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, which spreads like wildfire among the mammals. State officials said the risk of the virus jumping to humans is low.

All 10 samples from the Oregon farm came back positive for the virus, the Oregon Department of Agriculture said Friday. The farm was immediately placed under quarantine meaning no animal or animal product can leave the farm until further notice.

“We have been engaged with the Oregon mink industry for some time, providing information on biosecurity to prevent the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 and were ready to respond,” said ODA State Veterinarian Dr. Ryan Scholz. “The farmer did the right thing by self-reporting symptoms very early and he is now cooperating with us and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) in taking care of his animals and staff. So far, we have no reports of mink mortalities linked to the virus but that could change as the virus progresses.”

The farm has also reported cases of COVID-19 in staff, according to the ODA. Officials have advised the farmer and his team to self-isolate. State authorities planned to continue monitoring the farm, the employees and their families.

SARS-CoV-2 has been found in mink in at least seven countries this year. In the U.S., the states of Utah, Michigan, Wisconsin and now Oregon have had confirmed cases. The ODA said other types of animals have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

“Per the CDC and USDA-APHIS, there is currently no evidence that animals, including mink, play a significant role in transmitting the virus to humans. The risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to humans is considered low,” the ODA wrote in a statement.

Oregon reportedly has about a dozen mink farms with ODA permits but the once-profitable industry has taken a plunge as demand for fur pelts plummets more each year. Nearly all mink pelts produced in the U.S. are sold to China.

In October, a coalition of animal activist groups called on Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to coordinate a buy-out of Oregon’s mink farms. According to Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation and the Center for a Humane Economy, tens of thousands of mink on similar farms in Utah and Wisconsin have died of SARS-CoV-2 this year.

The groups said the buy-out program would be based on similar programs in the Netherlands, where fur farms have seen large COVID-19 outbreaks. Tens of thousands of mink in the country were gassed in an effort to prevent possible new outbreaks among humans. The situation there presented a unique opportunity for scientists to study how the virus jumps from humans to animals, and back to humans.

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