Monday, October 25

Covid 19: The American mink triggers all alarms

In Spain there are 32 breeding farms of this animal, which has become the first wild species in which the coronavirus has been detected

The American minkNeovison vison) is proving to be a potential focus of coronavirus. It was the first wild species in which Covid 19 was found, which only adds to uncertainty and concern about the future of this disease. At the same time, fear is growing that the farms where this animal is raised in Spain for the fur industry will become a source of contagion.

The United States Department of Agriculture has confirmed the first case of a native wild animal with coronavirus. It is an American mink found in the state of Utah to whom the disease was detected by means of a PCR test.

The International Society for Infectious Diseases issued a statement on Monday in which it reported that the State Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) carried out surveillance of wildlife that inhabits the surroundings of sprouting farms, when they found the infected animal.

What happens in Spain? The American mink is raised on 32 farms across the country and in June the conservationist entity WWF already asked the Minister of Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, to close them. By then, the potential of these animals as a virus propagator had already been demonstrated.

An invasive species in our country

It is not a native animal of Spain, although it is also in the natural environment of our country. But its presence in Spanish ecosystems is due to the fact that it is an invasive species. Specifically, the specimens that can be found in nature come from leaks made from these breeding centers. The American mink did not arrive in Spain for fur exploitation until the beginning of the 20th century, but the escaped specimens since then have established colonies in the center and north of the Peninsula.

In their expansion, they threaten the survival of the autochthonous or European mink (Mustela lutreola), among other species, since it is the American it is much more aggressive and manages to displace local populations, with which they compete for habitats and food.

Distribution of the American mink in Spain (invasive species) and the European mink (autochthonous species)

American mink farming is a “biological bomb” for nature as well as a reservoir of SARS-COV-2 because “the risk of contagion to humans is real,” Gemma, the head of the Endangered Species Program of WWF, warned yesterday Rodriguez.

During his speech at a virtual seminar organized by this conservation ngo, Rodríguez recalled that this species “It is one of the most invasive that exist”, very skillful to escape frequently to the natural environment and with a “very high” colonization capacity that not only causes “serious” economic damage but also harms more than fifty native species.

One of the most damaged species, to the point of being in danger of extinction, is the European mink, which, together with the Iberian lynx, is the most threatened mammal in Europe: in Spain there are only 500 specimens and could disappear definitively within five years “if sufficient measures are not taken”, this expert has warned.

In the same forum, the virologist Elisa Pérez-Ramírez explained the repercussions of the American mink on public health, highlighting that it is “Capable of transmitting covid-19 back to humans” by excreting large amounts of the virus in their saliva and feces.

“Explosive” situation, according to experts

According to Pérez-Ramírez, the virus spreads “explosively” in mustelid farms, animals that are already “very susceptible” to human respiratory viruses, because they have an excess density and deficient biosecurity measures, which favors massive infections with “very high” viral replication.

To avoid this type of problem, the virologist has insisted on the need for “active surveillance” and “very strict” biosecurity, practicing periodic PCR tests, serological studies and necropsies of the animals, using individual protection equipment (PPE) to all workers and controlling all accesses and movements.

Detection of a single positive requires “Act quickly and carry out a sanitary emptying, that is, the slaughter of all minks on the farm”, has warned, in addition to sequencing the virus detected and sharing epidemiological information with the international community, betting on the international strategy ‘One Health’, which implies collaboration between veterinary services and public health.

Veterinary epidemiologist Nacho de Blas, who also participated in this seminar, also emphasized the zoonotic origin of covid-19 and pointed out the “relevant role that bats seem to have had” in its development.

De Blas recalled that bats also inhabit the urban environment and are closely related to people even if they are not seen. “In fact (he added) many live under the roofs of our houses”, factors that, together with their ability to group in large colonies and have a very powerful immune system, constitute “the perfect laboratory for the virus to experiment and be able to develop mutations ”.

It is still unknown if there were intermediate species in the process of transmission of the virus to humans, but this expert pointed out that some animals, such as mink or cats, are also “very susceptible” to SARS-COV-2 by allowing “transmission horizontal ”while others, such as dogs, are“ less receptive ”and can spread but not humans.

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