Mink could spark another pandemic: expert

By Zhang Hui and Du Qiongfang Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/19 20:08:40


Mink could become the intermediate host of coronavirus, and lead to another novel coronavirus pandemic after they infect humans, a Chinese virologist warned, after mink in Demark and the Netherlands were identified as infected with COVID-19. 

Samples from 34 mink have shown that the animals were infected with the novel coronavirus in Denmark recently, and the local authority ordered 11,000 mink culled. 

This is the latest case of mink being infected with the virus. A month ago, the Dutch government reported that at least two people had caught the coronavirus from mink in the Netherlands, in probably the first mink-to-human transmission case. The Netherlands is expected to cull 375,000 mink. 

The cases sparked speculations on why the virus could spread in a wider animal population and then result in another wave, and how to deal with infected mink. 

Jin Dongyan, a professor at the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Friday that ferrets of the same family of mink are sensitive to respiratory viruses, and are the best model for studying human-to-human transmission of influenza viruses, which probably explains why mink were infected with the virus.

Evidence from current cases show that mink caught the virus from people and then infected other people, but it did not prove that mink are the virus' intermediate hosts, Jin said. 

"However, it's possible for mink to become intermediate hosts in the future or a virus host. That could lead to another COVID-19 pandemic after they infect people," Jin said. 

It's necessary to kill infected mink, but killing is not recommended in the long term as this would damage the ecosystem, Jin said. 

He suggested developing suitable vaccines for mink if the virus continues spread among the animal. 

Camels, the intermediate host of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), were not culled due to their close connection with humans, and Dubai based scientists have developed a vaccine for MERS in camels. 

After European mink were reported with coronavirus infections, some Chinese mink fur manufacturers were worried that it might affect their business. 

A manager of a Beijing mink garments company surnamed Yang told the Global Times on Friday that her company annually imports 600,000 to 700,000 pieces of mink fur from Europe and the US, as the quality there was much better. 

She said the large amount of mink infections in Europe will result in the soaring price of the fur next year, but the inventory from last year might be sufficient since the demand for mink fur apparel will also be hit by the epidemic. 

Each piece of mink fur is priced between $30 and $50 depending on the quality, color and size, Yang said. 

China imports about 5 million pieces of mink fur every year, while the annual output of domestically produced mink fur reached 12 million, with each female mink giving birth to four baby mink every year, Ma Zefang, a professor at the College of Animal Science and Technology of Qingdao Agricultural University, told the Global Times on Friday. 

Compared to imported mink fur, Ma admitted that the quality of domestically produced mink fur lags behind. "Other countries pay attention to the breading of species of good quality. We usually buy overseas breeds to improve our domestic species. Although the fur quality does improve, it still differs from the quality of original breeds. Other factors, including feeding, management, and nutrition also affect the quality of the mink fur," Ma said. 

"Influenced by international market prices, it is the worst period for the Chinese mink fur industry in the past 20 years," Ma noted. He said the price of Chinese mink fur to Russia is declining following the price drop of mink fur exported to Russia from other European countries and the US. 

"I heard about the Netherlands culling mink, but there are no cases of mink infected with COVID-19 in China as far as I know," Ma said. 

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