After thousands of minks at fur farms in Wisconsin, Michigan and Utah died due a series of coronavirus outbreaks in October, the United States Department of Agriculture has found the first known case of COVID-19 in a non-captive wild animal: a Utah mink.
The USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories released an alert on Saturday saying the free-range mink had tested positive in their screenings of wildlife around fur farms with coronavirus outbreaks.
Utah state veterinarian Dean Taylor told National Geographic that the wild mink was trapped in the "immediate vicinity of one of the affected farms."
"To our knowledge, this is the 1st free-ranging, native wild animal confirmed with SARS-CoV-2," the USDA wrote. "There is currently no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is circulating or has been established in wild populations surrounding the infected mink farms. Several animals from different wildlife species were sampled, but all others tested negative."
They also added that the strain of the virus in the positive wild mink is "indistinguishable" from the strain obtained from the infected farmed minks.
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COVID-19 has been found in more than 50 types of captive animals within the U.S. — including tigers, lions, cats, and dogs — according to the USDA.
Minks were first discovered to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 in April when farms in the Netherlands suffered several outbreaks in their mink populations, the Associated Press reported. Outbreaks among minks in Denmark and Spain have since been detected.
"Outbreaks at mink farms in Europe and other areas have shown the captive mink to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, and it is not unexpected that wild mink would also be susceptible to the virus," USDA spokesperson Lyndsay Cole told National Geographic. "This finding demonstrates both the importance of continuing surveillance around infected mink farms and of taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus to wildlife."
Last week, Canada reported its first farmed mink outbreak in British Columbia. Meanwhile, in Utah, nearly 10,000 minks have died of COVID-19 at nine different fur farms, NBC News previously reported.
For those worried about their pets amid the pandemic, Taylor told National Geographic that owners should "treat them the same as people."
"Distance with them in your own homes if someone is sick in the household," he said.
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