Spain orders cull of nearly 100,000 farmed mink after animals test positive for Covid-19

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Almost 100,000 mink on the farm are to be culled after 78 out of 90 animals tested -- equivalent to 87% of the sample -- tested positive for coronavirus. /GETTY IMAGES

Spanish authorities have ordered the culling of almost 100,000 mink following an outbreak at a farm, where the animals are bred for fur, after a number tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Environment of Spain’s Aragon region said in a statement on Thursday that it had ordered the slaughter of the 92,700 mink after seven workers on the farm tested positive for Covid-19 and the animals were found to be infected with the coronavirus.

As a precaution the department shut down the farm, in Teruel, eastern Spain, on May 22, for monitoring before conducting a number of tests at random, which initially returned a negative result.

However, subsequent tests, the most recent of which was July 7, confirmed 78 out of 90 animals tested — equivalent to 87% of the sample — had become infected with the coronavirus.

In the statement, the department said no conclusions could be drawn as to whether “there is human-to-animal transmission or vice versa,” and that “no abnormal behaviour has been detected in the animals nor has there been an increase in mortality in them.”

However, it said all mink on the farm would be slaughtered as a preventative measure.

What do we know about animal-to-human transmission?

Studies have shown that the virus is contagious among certain animals, including cats and dogs.

Less is understood about the possibility of animal-to-human transmission, however, with researchers studying the risk.

There have been other cases of workers testing positive for coronavirus at mink farms in Denmark and the Netherlands, both major producers of the animal’s fur.

In the Netherlands, tens of thousands of mink have been slaughtered in recent months after outbreaks were discovered at farms across the country.

The move came after the Dutch government said it had found two suspected cases of farm workers being infected by the animals in May.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the infections could be the “first known cases of animal-to-human transmission” since the coronavirus pandemic began in China.

At a news conference in June, WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said “there were individuals who infected the minks, people who infected the mink and in turn some of these mink infected some people”.

“We are learning about what this actually means in terms of transmission and what role they [mink] may play,” Dr van Kerkhove said.

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