Utah mink test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans

(AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File) In this Dec. 6, 2012, file photo, minks look out of a cage at a fur farm in the village of Litusovo, northeast of Minsk, Belarus. Coronavirus outbreaks at mink farms in Spain and the Netherlands have scientists digging into how the animals got infected and if they can spread it to people.

Animals at two Utah mink farms have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, officials announced Monday.

They are the first confirmed cases in mink in the country.

The two affected farms — which have been placed under quarantine by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food — also reported positive cases of the coronavirus among employees, Dean Taylor, state veterinarian, said during a news conference.

However “there is no conclusive evidence that the animals played a role in spreading it to humans.”

So far, five mink from the Utah farms have tested positive for the virus, Taylor said, “but there is the potential for more” as the state is awaiting more animal test results.

While the state is not releasing the location of the farms — which breed and raise the animals for fur — Taylor did say the cases were found at the state’s largest breeders.

Utah is the second largest mink pelt producer in the country.

Taylor said officials at the mink farms notified the state veterinary officials after an unusually large numbers of animals died. The Utah veterinary lab completed necropsies on several of the animals. Samples then were forwarded and tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2, the animal version of the coronavirus, at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory.

Those samples were then sent to the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories. for confirmation testing.

Taylor said the state has not done testing outside of the two affected farms.

Mink were known to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, as the virus was discovered in the Netherlands after farms experienced an increase in deaths. Feral cats that were stealing the minks’ food also were found to be infected. Tens of thousands of mink, mostly pups, were culled to prevent the spread to humans.

Mink farms in Spain and Denmark have also had outbreaks.

Utah currently does not plan “to depopulate” the mink farms, the state veterinarian said, and there currently is no information that stray cats spread it to the mink.

Based on the limited information available, the risk of animals spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people is considered to be low, Taylor said. However, more studies are needed to understand how different species may be affected by the virus.

People with COVID-19 can spread the virus to animals during close contact. It is important for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from possible infection.

For more information about COVID-19 and animals and recommendations for animal owners, visit the CDC’s COVID-19 and Animals page.