Utah ranchers have lost at least 8,000 mink to an outbreak of Covid-19 among the animals known for their silky, luxurious pelts.
The virus first appeared in the creatures in August, shortly after farmworkers fell ill in July, according to Dr. Dean Taylor, state veterinarian of Utah. Initial research shows the virus was transmitted from humans to animals, and so far has not seen any cases of the opposite.
“Everything we’ve looked at here in Utah suggests it's gone from the humans to the animals,” Taylor told CNN.
“It feels like a unidirectional path,” he said, adding that testing is still underway.
Some context: This is the first outbreak among mink in the United States, though other cases have been detected in the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Mink, which are closely related to weasels, otter and ferrets, appear to suffer similar symptoms to humans. Difficulty breathing and crusting around the eyes are usually seen, but the virus progresses rapidly, and most infected mink are dead by the next day, according to Taylor. It’s unclear what makes mink such a susceptible species, while others appear to be unaffected.
Mink join only cats, dogs, a tiger and a lion to be the only confirmed animals with Covid-19 in the US, according to the USDA data.
The cluster of cases in Utah has spread to nine farms, but Taylor warns that “we’re still in the middle of the outbreak.” Each farm is under quarantine with only essential workers permitted on site. Farmworkers are being directed to use proper protective equipment at all times.
The pelts from most of the mink that have died from the virus have been either contained and buried or incinerated. No pelts have left the state, according to Taylor.