CAPE TOWN – Public health experts are worried that any species capable of infection could become a reservoir that allows the coronavirus to re-emerge at any time and infect people.
The concern over mink population infections arises from the recent discovery of mutations in the virus among farmed mink in Denmark.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also announced that six countries have reported the presence of the virus among mink farm populations.
“The implications of the identified changes in this variant are not yet well understood. Initial observations suggest that the clinical presentation, severity and transmission among those infected are similar to that of other circulating Covid-19 viruses,” the WHO statement said.
Denmark recently announced plans to cull up to 17 million farmed mink after discovering that 12 humans had caught the mutated form of the virus.
“We have a great responsibility toward our own population, but with the mutation that has now been found, we have an even greater responsibility for the rest of the world as well,” said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.
In July Spain also discovered more cases on mink farms, leading to a cull of around 100,000 in that instance.
In August the United States discovered infected mink populations on two farms in Utah. The cases on both farms were linked with infections among people who had handled the animals.
Another group did a similar study of primates, which are often infected with human respiratory viruses
“One of the premises for doing this research was that we thought that great apes would be very at risk because of their close relationship to humans, genetically,” said Amanda D. Melin, author of the primate study.
Mink are not the only animals that can be infected with the coronavirus. Dogs, cats, tigers, hamsters, monkeys, ferrets and genetically engineered mice have also been infected.
Dogs and cats, including tigers, seem to suffer few ill effects. The other animals, which are used in laboratory experiments, have exhibited varying responses.
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