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Nearly 10,000 minks die after Covid-19 outbreak at Utah fur farms

Nearly 10,000 of farmed minks in Utah have died of Covid-19, but humans are not at risk of the outbreak, a state veterinarian said.
Image: Minks in their cages at a fur farm on May 1, 2019 in Brumunddal, Norway.
Minks in their cages at a fur farm on May 1, 2019 in Brumunddal, Norway.Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP via Getty Images file

Thousands of farmed minks in Utah have died of Covid-19, forcing affected sites to quarantine as the state veterinarian investigates the outbreak.

Nearly 10,000 minks — creatures known for their luxurious, silky pelts — have died in the past two weeks at nine fur farms in Utah, as of Friday morning, Dean Taylor, state veterinarian, told NBC News.

The virus was discovered among the animals in the U.S. earlier in August, shortly after ranch workers tested positive, he said.

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Taylor said that while research suggests people with Covid-19 can infect animals, transmission the other way around is “considered low.”

“All of the research indicates there hasn’t been a spread from minks to humans,” Taylor said.

Like humans with Covid-19, the most common symptom for infected minks has been respiratory distress, he said.

“Minks show open mouth breathing, discharge from their eyes and nose, and are not sick for several days before they pass away,” Taylor said. “They typically die within the next day.”

Taylor added that the virus has predominantly targeted older minks, “wiping out 50 percent of the breeding colonies,” while leaving the younger ones unscathed.

Minks join a list of more than 50 animals, including cats, dogs, tigers, and lions, who have contracted Covid-19 in the U.S., according to Department of Agriculture data.

The creatures were discovered to have been susceptible to the new coronavirus after outbreaks were detected in the Netherlands, according to the USDA.

The initial discovery was followed by outbreaks from Spain and Denmark, leading the countries to kill more than 1 million farmed minks as a precaution, The Associated Press reported.

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No animals have been put down because of the outbreak, Taylor said.

He said he was working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USDA, and Wildlife Services to provide more protective equipment and adequate training to mink farmworkers to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Once final testing is done, we’re going to create a state plan to stop this virus from spreading to more farms,” Taylor said. “It’s far easier to prevent it from happening, then stopping it from happening all at once.”