Animal welfare experts want authorities to cull minks at a British Columbia fur farm after five of the animals tested positive for COVID-19.
An outbreak of the virus was first detected at a mink fur farm in the Fraser Valley, located east of Vancouver, after eight people tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.
The BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Fisheries sent samples of minks to get tested at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease (NCFAD) in Winnipeg. The novel coronavirus was detected in five of those samples.
In a statement released Wednesday, the ministry said this outcome was expected since there had been known contact between infected workers and minks at that farm.
“Testing to determine genome sequencing and the strain of the virus continues. Results are anticipated in the coming week,” reads the statement.
The main concern about this particular outbreak is the possibility of a mutated strain of the virus, after this development was found among minks who contracted the virus during outbreaks at fur farms in Denmark this fall.
The European country decided to cull up to 17 million minks once the mutation was detected. Before that point, the virus spread rapidly among the animals kept in close quarters, and eventually infected 214 people—12 of them contracted the mutated form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, referred to as the “cluster 5” variant.
While there is no indication as to whether BC authorities plan to cull minks at this COVID-stricken farm, experts say it is the necessary next step, alongside other measures.
“The BC SPCA is going to be writing to the minister and asking for a moratorium on fur farm licenses and additional screening of animals on other farms,” said Dr. Sara Dubois, Chief Scientific Officer at the BC SPCA, in an interview with VICE World News.
“These animals unfortunately will need to be culled to prevent further spread, so that’s what we’ll be asking for.”
There are 13 mink fur farms in British Columbia, all in the Fraser Valley. Dubois says depending on the size of the farm, these facilities can house between a few hundred and tens of thousands of minks. The outbreak is currently limited to one farm, which has been placed under quarantine by the province’s chief veterinarian.
COVID-19 made its way through the farm despite its regulators complying with all animal welfare and biosecurity standards, according to an inspection conducted by health authorities in September.
The ministry says they don’t expect this outbreak to impact other mink farms in the province, but Dubois says the spread of the virus at these farms cannot be controlled.
“This is a highly intensive farming practice in a very confined space,” she said.
“These animals are in very very close conditions and they do have contact with people who need to handle them… [the spread of the virus is] kind of inevitable. We’re seeing this in many places now internationally.”
While this particular outbreak is the first of its kind in Canada, mink farms in Denmark, U.S., Spain, Sweden, Italy and the Netherlands have also had recent outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The mutated strain of COVID-19 found in Danish minks and the 12 infected humans is particularly concerning as it was found to have “decreased sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies”.
The WHO says more studies are needed to figure out what this new strain means for diagnosis, treatment, and vaccinations.
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