Mink may have transmitted Covid-19 to humans in Netherlands, officials order mandatory testing at farms

This could make it the country's first reported case of animal-to-human transmission


                            Mink may have transmitted Covid-19 to humans in Netherlands, officials order mandatory testing at farms
(Getty Images)

A mink may have infected a human with Covid-19 at a Dutch mink farm, which could make it the country's first reported case of animal-to-human transmission. The Dutch authorities have now instituted mandatory testing at all mink farms in the Netherlands.

“Based on new results from the ongoing research into Covid-19 infections on mink farms, it is likely that infection of mink on humans has occurred. The relevant study also shows that minks can have Covid-19 without showing any disease symptoms. Based on these latest insights, Minister Schouten of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and Minister De Jonge of Health, Welfare and Sport, will take several measures,” said a statement.

According to researchers, the new findings could have a major impact on the owners, families and employees of mink companies as well as on the local communities. Investigations show that an employee had similarities with the virus found from mink on the same farm.

“The virus that causes Covid-19 mutates relatively quickly. These changes in the genetic code can be monitored. By comparing the genetic codes of the virus of different animals and people with each other, a family tree can be created and an image can be obtained of how people and animals have been infected in time and place. This type of research has also been done on infected minks and humans,” said the report.

“One of the employees has been shown to have similarities with the virus found from mink on the same farm. Based on the mutual comparison and the position of the virus in the family tree, it is concluded from this investigation that it is plausible that one employee of an infected mink farm was infected by mink,” it added. To get definitive answers, the researchers are currently mapping the “genetic pedigree” of infected people from the environment of the infected mink farm to obtain the most complete picture possible.

Three mink companies with coronavirus cases are currently being investigated. Officials said employees have been advised to use protective equipment during their work. There is also a visitor ban in the stables of the companies with confirmed Covid-19 cases. 

The government has directed that all symptoms that may indicate a Covid-19 infection in mink must be reported to the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. “The screening of mink farms (for mink antibodies) is extended to all mink farms in the Netherlands and is mandatory. In the interest of the health of employees at mink farms, it is important to get an overview of the situation of all mink farms. The NVWA coordinates this screening,” it added.

Dutch officials said that employees of mink farms have been advised to use protective equipment during their work. (Getty Images)

The government also said it believes cats may be playing a role in the spread of the virus between farms. “Current research shows that viruses on two of the infected mink farms are very similar. There can be several reasons for this. Because antibodies against the virus have been demonstrated in three out of eleven farm cats on one of the infected farms, it is important to further investigate the role of farm cats in potential virus transmission between farms. Farm cats are cats that live in the yard and are not socialized. In the course of this investigation, it is advised that infected mink farms ensure that cats cannot enter or leave the premises,” said the statement.

However, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, RIVM, has indicated that the risk of exposure of people to the virus outside the house is still negligible. The experts from RIVM had earlier done a risk assessment and results show that all air and dust samples outside the house did not contain any virus on repeated measurements. The RIVM also said the risk of people getting infected by their pets remains small. “The advice is: keep your animal indoors if there are people in the household with complaints that are appropriate for Covid-19 and the animal is also sick. If in doubt or serious complaints, always consult your vet,” said experts. 

Meanwhile, in April, five tigers and three lions had tested positive for Covid-19 at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the non-profit organization that runs the zoo. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had also announced in April that two house cats in New York tested positive for the coronavirus. There is currently no evidence that the new coronavirus can spread from cats to humans, according to the CDC. 

As a growing number of countries push for an independent investigation into the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic, many scientists globally are already trying to uncover when, where and how the new coronavirus infected people. Some believe that the coronavirus jumped from bats to a mystery animal, which then passed on the virus to people.

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