More than 15,000 minks in the United States have died of the coronavirus since August, and authorities are keeping about a dozen farms under quarantine while they investigate the cases, state agriculture officials said.
Global health officials are eyeing the animals as a potential risk for people after Denmark last week embarked on a plan to eliminate all of its 17 million minks, saying a mutated coronavirus strain could move to humans and evade future COVID-19 vaccines.
The US states of Utah, Wisconsin and Michigan – where the coronavirus has killed minks – said they do not plan to cull animals and are monitoring the situation in Denmark.
“We believe that quarantining affected mink farms in addition to implementing stringent biosecurity measures will succeed in controlling SARS-CoV-2 at these locations,” the US Department of Agriculture told Reuters on Tuesday.
The USDA said it is working with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state officials and the mink industry to test and monitor infected farms.
The United States has 359,850 minks bred to produce babies, known as kits, and produced 2.7 million pelts last year. Wisconsin is the largest mink-producing state, followed by Utah.
Sick minks in Wisconsin and Utah were exposed to people with probable or confirmed COVID-19 cases, the USDA said. In Michigan, it is still unknown if the minks were infected by humans, according to the agency.
In Utah, the first US state to confirm mink infections in August, about 10,700 minks have died on nine farms, said Dean Taylor, state veterinarian.