The Danish government will slaughter millions of mink on more than 1,000 farms, fearing that a mutation in the new coronavirus that infected the mink could interfere with the effectiveness of a vaccine for humans.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen made the announcement at a press conference on Wednesday. There are 15 million or more mink in Denmark, which is one of the world’s largest exporters of mink furs. She said the armed forces would be involved in the slaughter of mink.
Kare Molbak, the head of the National Serum Institute, the government branch of public health and infectious diseases, warned at the press conference that a mutation could interfere with the effectiveness of future vaccines. The government notified the World Health Organization of the mutation in the virus, and also said 12 people in its region of Jutland had it and had a weak reaction to antibodies, according to press reports.
The WHO acknowledged by email that it had been “informed by Denmark of a number of people infected with the mink coronavirus, with some genetic modifications of the virus”. WHO said Denmark was “investigating the epidemiological and virological significance of these findings and slaughtering the mink population. We are in contact with them to find out more about this event.
With no published reports on the nature of the mutation or how the virus variant was tested, researchers outside Denmark studying the virus have been left somewhat in the dark. Dr Stanley Perlman, a microbiologist at the University of Iowa and an expert on the novel coronavirus, said he could not assess the Danish claims without more information.
Dr Jonathan Epstein, vice president for science and outreach at the EcoHealth Alliance, a conservation organization, said he had not seen details so far, but: “Someone should soon publish the footage, and evolutionary biologists will be everywhere. he.”
On Twitter, Emma Hodcroft, a geneticist at the University of Basel, Switzerland, who tracks the spread of the new coronavirus, called for caution. “Don’t panic,” Dr Hodcroft tweeted. “Scientists will update when we have more information.”
In September, Dutch scientists reported in an article that has not yet been peer reviewed that the virus was leaping between mink and humans. In Denmark, the government describes a version of the virus that has migrated from mink to humans.
The coronavirus mutates slowly but steadily, and a different variant of the virus in itself would not be of concern, experts have said.
The researchers studied a mutation marked D614G in the spike protein of the virus that can increase transmission. They concluded that there was no evidence to date that the particular mutation increases virulence or would affect how a vaccine works.
Denmark had already started killing all mink on 400 farms that were either infected or close enough to infected farms to be of concern. Killing all the mink will wipe out the industry, perhaps for years to come.
Mink are part of the weasel family, along with ferrets, which are easily infected with the coronavirus. Ferrets seem to suffer from mild symptoms. Mink, which are kept in crowded conditions ideal for spreading a virus, can become very sick and die. Mink has also been infected in other countries, including the Netherlands and some US states. Thousands of mink have been killed in Utah due to an outbreak of the coronavirus, but authorities there said it does not appear that the mink transmitted the virus to humans, but on the contrary.
Many conservation scientists have expressed concern about the spread of the virus to animal populations, such as chimpanzees, which are believed to be susceptible, although cases have not yet been identified. Groups of researchers are testing bats, pets, and wildlife in the United States.
Researchers are also concerned about what happens when the virus moves from one species to another and may acquire changes or mutations. While most of these changes aren’t likely to pose a problem for humans, there is always a risk that strains of the virus will become more infectious or more virulent.
Animal Protection Denmark, an advocacy group, recommended a long-term solution to the mink and coronavirus problem: “The right decision would be to end mink farming altogether and help farmers exercise control. another profession which does not endanger public health and animal welfare. “