A recent outbreak of COVID-19 at a mink farm in Taylor County has left over 2,000 minks dead according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
The outbreak was first detected by a local veterinarian who noticed an increase in the number of mink deaths at the farm. The first mink to test positive for COVID-19 at the farm was confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory last week. . . Since then DATCP has enlisted the aid of federal, state, and local agencies to quarantine the farm and its animals.
Kevin Hoffman, a public information officer within the Division of Health at DATCP, says that the department is working with the farm to help stop the spread.
“We are making sure that the healthy animals that are on the farm are being separated, for lack of a better word, from infected animals that are on the farm still. That’s one of the things that we’re doing up there in addition to other things such as helping to offer any guidance we can to the people that are up there as far as composting.”
Hoffman says DATCP does not believe that humans or local wildlife are under threat of contracting the virus from the mink. The USDA and CDC say, though information is limited, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to humans is low. Still, officials advised humans to maintain safe practices when interacting with animals that have contracted the virus.
The first mink to have a positive COVID-19 case was this spring, in the Netherlands. The first known cases in the US were confirmed back in mid-August in Utah where, in under one week, the virus killed 10,000 mink across nine farms.
Mink are one of the few mammals known to contract and spread COVID-19. Other mammals, including dogs, cats, ferrets and even lions and tigers can also spread the virus to other animals.
Kristen Bernard is a professor of Veterinary Virology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She says mink are susceptible to COVID-19 for two reasons.
“So the cats, the ferret, and the mink are more susceptible to the infection due to the way their cells or the surface of their cells are more similar to ours, and the ferrets will sneeze.”
Professor Bernard also says that, as ferrets and minks are closely related, they are similarly suited to spread the virus from animal-to-animal. And she says the close-quarters that mink face on these farms is a big reason the virus spreads aggressively.
Critics, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, say the conditions mink face on farms are inhumane and cruel, saying small, closely spaced cages can restrict movement and cause stress.
Ashley Byrne is the Associate Director of Campaigns for PETA, which has urged Wisconsin officials to take drastic measures to stop the spread of COVID in mink farms.
“PETA is, again, urging Governor Evers to close Wisconsin’s mink farms immediately upon hearing there is a confirmed outbreak in the state. You know, the animals on these farms do not deserve to die of this disease any more than they deserve to be kept in miserable conditions and denied everything natural to them.”
Wisconsin is the nation’s leader in mink pelt production. In 2019, the state produced over 1 million pelts making up 38 percent of the nation’s total pelt production according to figures from DATCP. In 2018, mink farmers made almost $230 million from mink pelts.
Reporting for W-O-R-T news, I’m Ryan Wollersheim
Image courtesy: TheAnimalDay.org on Flickr