With the concerns we all have about bringing COVID-19 under control, it is not surprising that outbreaks on several U.S. mink farms have become news, a story fanned by those who already oppose any use of animals, even for food.
The more outrageous and sensational the fears, of course, the more likely that they spread quickly through the news media and social networks.
Less exciting is the insistence by animal and public health authorities that the virus in mink presents little risk to the general population.
The facts are clear: There are no documented cases of mink-to-human transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the U.S. There were 12 suspected cases of transmission of the “Cluster 5” mutation of the virus in Denmark (not 214 “confirmed cases,” as activists are claiming). Furthermore, this Cluster 5 variant has not been detected since September and is now considered extinct.
Mutations are very common with all viruses — and some can be dangerous, like the variant that has emerged among humans in Britain — but there is little concern among health authorities that the mutation that occurred in Denmark will reduce the efficacy of vaccines for humans.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s leading virologist states, “It does not appear, at this point, that that mutation that’s been identified in the minks is going to have an impact on vaccines and affect a vaccine-induced response.”
Activists have also jumped on the news that two mink trapped outside infected farms (one in Utah and one in Oregon) showed low levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They claim these isolated cases represent an existential threat to wildlife and may create a “viral reservoir” that will endanger public health.
They rarely mention that at least nine other species were captured at the same time, and none tested positive for the virus. Mink are solitary animals, and experts agree that it is highly unlikely that they will spread the virus to humans or wildlife.
Another fact not often reported is that the virus on affected mink farms is rapidly clearing. The most recent round of testing on the farm in Oregon has found no trace of the virus. Mink farmers have long practiced robust biosecurity to protect their animals from diseases carried by wildlife. By implementing stepped-up precautions as recommended by the USDA and the CDC, mink farmers have been able to successfully contain the outbreaks that have occurred.
So, next time you read the end-of-the-world scenarios being used to call for an end to mink farming, spare a moment to think of the farmers who are acting responsibly to protect their animals, their livelihoods, and the health of their families and neighbors.