Mink on two farms in Utah have become the first in the United States to test positive for the coronavirus, state and federal officials announced on Monday.
Five animals on the farms tested positive for the virus, but many more are believed to be infected because of a recent upswing in the number of mink deaths on the farms, Bradie Jill Jones, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Health and Agriculture, said. Typically, two or three mink die per day on a farm, she said.
“Producers began to worry early last week when those fatality rates shot through the sky,” Ms. Jones said. The owners of the two farms, which officials declined to identify, contacted a veterinarian who alerted agriculture officials.
Samples from the mink were tested at the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, officials said. Later, those results were confirmed by tests performed at the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.
Several workers at the two farms have also tested positive for the coronavirus, Ms. Jones said, but the department has not determined if those infections are linked to the farm. There is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans, according to the federal Department of Agriculture.
Ms. Jones said the farms “will be composting” the affected mink on site “so these animals would not be leaving the farms where these infections have broken out.”
Of the 2.7 million mink pelts produced in the United States last year, more than half a million came from Utah, according to federal data. The only state to produce more was Wisconsin, which produced a little more than a million mink pelts.
“Mink were known to be susceptible” to the virus following an outbreak on multiple farms in the Netherlands, the United States Department of Agriculture said in a statement on Monday announcing the infections in Utah. In June, thousands of mink were slaughtered in Spain and the Netherlands on the suspicion that they may be passing the disease to people.
Michael Whelan, executive director of the trade organization representing mink producers in the United States, said he was not concerned about a similar widespread outbreak among mink in the United States. “Our mink farms are spread out over a much larger area than in Europe,” he said in an interview. In the Netherlands, the affected mink farms were clustered together and in areas with high rates of infected humans, he said.
“We don’t expect an outbreak anything like what is happening in Europe,” he said. “The mink industry has taken biosecurity very seriously far many years.”
Kitty Bloch, chief executive officer and president of the Humane Society of the United States, said the outbreak in Utah was “a big deal.”
“If you want to address the next pandemic, you have to look at our relationship with animals,” she said. “The health and conditions we are putting these animals in is impacting our health. We can’t separate them.”
In April, several tigers and lions at a zoo in New York tested positive for the virus.