Smithsonian Magazine reports that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has detected the virus in a wild mink found near a fur farm that recently experienced a coronavirus outbreak in its animal population.
While the study did not conclude how the wild mink contracted the infection, it is not uncommon for mink to escape fur farms, and the virus discovered in the wild animal is indistinguishable from the virus circulating in the nearby farm.
USDA spokesperson Lyndsay Cole recently spoke with National Geographic about the incident:
Outbreaks at mink farms in Europe and other areas have shown captive mink to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, and it is not unexpected that wild mink would also be susceptible to the virus. This finding demonstrates both the importance of continuing surveillance around infected mink farms and of taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus to wildlife.
According to National Geographic, the mink was the only wild animal to test positive among several species surveyed near the farm. There’s no evidence to indicate the virus has spread to other wild animals, ScienceNews reported.
Scientists in the Netherlands first discovered evidence of the virus in mink fur farms in June. In August, the disease reached fur farms in the U.S., as reported earlier by the Deseret News.
In addition to mink farm populations, captive animals ranging from dogs and cats to larger felines like lions, tigers and snow leopards have also tested positive for the virus, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
According to ScienceNews, if the infection becomes widespread among wild animals, it creates the opportunity for the virus to evolve within those animal groups. The virus could then undergo mutations that would allow it to jump to other types of animals and possibly transmit a new strain of infection back to people.
Dan Horton, a veterinary expert from University of Surrey, told BBC News that the wild mink case raises concerns about the virus’ ability to spread among noncaptive animal populations. He added that the occurrence “reinforces the need to undertake surveillance in wildlife and remain vigilant.”