SARS-CoV-2 exposure in escaped mink, Utah, USA

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SARS-CoV-2 exposure in escaped mink, Utah, USA

Added 16 June 2021

Shriner, S.A. et al (2021) SARS-CoV-2 exposure in escaped mink, Utah, USA. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 27 (3), pp. 988-990.

This paper reports on a wildlife epidemiologic investigation of mammals captured on or near properties in Utah, USA, where outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection occurred in farmed mink.

Free-roaming mammals were captured between August 22–30, 2020, by using Sherman (rodents) and Tomahawk (mesocarnivores) traps placed outside barns and barrier fences on outbreak premises and public lands within a 3.5-km buffer zone. Sample collection included oral, nasal (washes for mice), and rectal swabs as well as tissue and blood samples.

102 mammals were captured (78 rodents and 24 mesocarnivores). Rodents captured consisted of three species of mice and three rock squirrels. Mesocarnivore captures consisted of 11 presumed escaped American mink, two presumed wild American mink, five raccoons and six striped skunks. Presumed escaped mink were closely associated with barns and designated as domestic escapees on the basis of location, behaviour, and appearance.

Wild mink were identified by brown coat colour and smaller size compared with farmed mink.
All escaped mink and rodents, except for four deer mice and one rock squirrel, were caught on farm premises. All raccoons, the two presumed wild mink, and all but one striped skunk were captured off-property but within the buffer zone.

Serum samples from the 11 mink escapees tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies by virus neutralization, and three also had viral RNA detected by rRT-PCR from nasal swabs and one from lung tissue. A rectal swab specimen from a house mouse had a high Ct detection by rRT-PCR but was negative for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

No other animal had a detectable antibody response.

Although the authors did not find evidence for SARS-CoV-2 establishment in wildlife, they note that the discovery of escaped mink with the opportunity to disperse and interact with susceptible wildlife, such as wild mink or deer mice, is concerning and recommend heightened biosecurity to help prevent accidental releases of infected animals or spillover of SARS-CoV-2 from susceptible species to native wildlife.

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