Animals at a mink farm in British Columbia are being tested for COVID-19 after several people on the farm contracted the virus, less than a month after a mutated strain of the virus was discovered among minks in Europe.
Eight people at the farm, located in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver, tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak declared on Sunday, prompting new restrictions and further testing by public health authorities.
Last month, Denmark decided to cull up to 17 million minks after a mutated strain of COVID-19 was found among the animals and had infected hundreds of people. The country has also banned mink farming until the end of 2021.
Other countries, including the United States, Spain, Sweden, Italy, and the Netherlands, have also had recent outbreaks on mink farms, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The source of the mink farm outbreak among humans in B.C. remains unclear, and there is no information yet about how the virus was transmitted.
In a statement to VICE World News, a spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Fisheries said samples of some of the minks have been sent to the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease (NCFAD) in Winnipeg, where scientists will be able to determine whether they have been infected with COVID-19.
If the animals are found to have contracted the virus, this will be the first mink fur farm outbreak reported in Canada.
The outbreak is limited to one farm in the Fraser Valley. According to a new order under the B.C. Animal Health Act, all animals, equipment, and other goods from that farm are currently not allowed to leave the premises.
“The site has been inspected by Fraser Health and WorkSafeBC and we continue to work with the site on their COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” reads a statement from the Fraser Health Authority.
All individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 as part of this outbreak and their close contacts are self-isolating, as well as farm operators and other affected staff.
According to the WHO, 214 cases of COVID-19 were detected among humans associated with mink farms in Denmark—the world’s biggest producer of mink fur.
Among those cases, 12 were found to have been infected with a mutated form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, referred to as the “cluster 5” variant.
“The implications of the identified changes in this variant are not yet well understood,” the WHO said in their statement.
“Preliminary findings indicate that this particular mink-associated variant identified in both minks and the 12 human cases has moderately decreased sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies.”
Further studies are needed to understand the implications these findings have on diagnostics, treatment, and vaccination.
After news of mink farm outbreaks in Denmark broke in the fall, B.C. Ministry staff conducted inspections at each of the province’s licensed mink farms to make sure they were complying with standard biosecurity measures and enhanced COVID-19 protocols.
There are currently 13 mink fur farms in B.C., all of which are located in the Fraser Valley region, according to a B.C. agriculture ministry statement from 2014.
Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador are home to the highest numbers of these farms in Canada.
According to the Canada Mink Breeders Association, 1.7 million farmed mink were produced across the country in 2018. The industry employs over 60,000 people, who work as trappers, fur farmers, and craftspeople and in other support roles.
Authorities in B.C. have reached out to the other mink farms in the province to make sure biosecurity measures and enhanced COVID-19 protocols are being followed.
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