An American wild mink in Utah tested positive for coronavirus, the first wild animal found infected with the virus, researchers say.
The wild mink became infected with a variant of the coronavirus that “was indistinguishable” from viruses taken from nearby crop minks, U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers wrote in a Dec. 13 report. This suggests that the wild mink acquired the infection of farm animals. It is unclear whether the animal was alive or dead at the time of the test.
Researchers found the mink during a survey of coronavirus-infected wildlife in areas surrounding mink farms that had outbreaks from Aug. 24 to Oct. 30. With only one wild animal that has tested positive so far, there is no evidence that the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, has spread among wildlife in the United States or elsewhere.
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If the virus became widespread among wild or farmed minks, it may continue to evolve in those animals. In such a scenario, the virus could accumulate mutations that may not occur in humans, potentially allowing the virus to jump to other types of animals and make them sick or transmit a new, possibly more virulent strain to humans.
There have been multiple coronavirus outbreaks on mink farms in the United States and Europe since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Although infected people originally passed the virus on to farm animals, small genetic changes in the viruses that infect people and minks in Europe show that the coronavirus has also spread from mink to humans, researchers reported in November in Science.
Millions of animals in Denmark were slaughtered in early November after authorities expressed concern that mutations in mink versions of the coronavirus could make COVID-19 vaccines less effective. This could happen if the parts of the virus that are normally the target of vaccine-induced protective antibodies evolve into minks to escape recognition and then those viruses are transmitted to people. But there is no evidence to suggest that existing viral variants of minks may weaken vaccines.
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