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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Explained: Why is Denmark culling its 17-million strong mink population?

Denmark is the world’s largest mink producer, with the animal population valued at roughly 3 billion kroner. 

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | November 10, 2020 1:12:46 am
Denmark mink cull, Denmark minks, Denmark mink population, virus mutation minks, Covid virus mutation, express explained, indian expressThe minks were likely infected following exposure to infected humans. (Photo: AP)

Denmark, which has recorded more than 55,000 cases of COVID-19 so far, has also recorded over 200 human cases infected with SARS-CoV-2 variants that are associated with farmed minks. These include 12 cases with a unique variant, which were reported on November 5.

After the Danish Public Health Authority (Statens Serum Institut) discovered the mutated version of coronavirus in mink, the government decided to cull all of the country’s over 17-million population of the animal.

How did this strain emerge?

As per the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA), Denmark has experienced extensive spread of SARS-CoV-2 on mink farms since June 2020, which was followed by virus transmission between the animals and a “spill back” to humans. So far, over 207 farms in the country are infected.

Denmark is the world’s largest mink producer, with a 15-17 million strong mink population across 1,100 farms, according to The Copenhagen Post. The country’s mink population is valued at roughly 3 billion kroner.

The minks were likely infected following exposure to infected humans. Minks can not only serve as a reservoir for SARS-CoV-2, but are also capable of spreading it to humans.

As per the WHO, the severity, clinical presentation and transmission among those infected are similar to those of other circulating SARS-CoV-2 viruses. This variant, which is referred to as the “cluster 5” variant, is characterised by a combination of mutations that have not been observed previously. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Why is this cause for concern?

The precise implications of the identified changes in the variant are not yet known. But as per preliminary findings, one of the mink-associated variants identified in 12 humans so far may have moderately decreased sensitivity to neutralising antibodies. This might mean that future vaccines may not work against this particular variant of the virus, which is why it is a risk to public health.

“It remains a concern when any animal virus spills in to the human population, or when an animal population could contribute to amplifying and spreading a virus affecting humans. As viruses move between human and animal populations, genetic modifications in the virus can occur,” the WHO has said.

So what does this mean?

The WHO has said that further studies need to be carried out to evaluate the potential implications of this variant in terms of transmission, clinical presentation, diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccine development. It has also said that based on the information available so far, countries should refrain from imposing any travel of trade restrictions on Denmark.

Even so, the UK has imposed a ban on visitors from Denmark.

Have any other countries reported SARS-CoV-2 in farmed mink?

As per the WHO, six countries, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy and the US, have reported SARS-CoV-2 in farmed mink.

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