A recent alert issued by the US Department of Agriculture revealed that a “free-ranging, wild mink” located in Utah contracted COVID-19 and became the first documented wild animal to become infected with the respiratory disease.
Officials discovered the COVID-19-positive animal during surveillance operations on grounds surrounding mink farms in Utah, Michigan and in Wisconsin - states where a total of 16 mink farms had reported outbreaks of the virus.
The surveillance operations took place between August 24 and October 30, and saw the involvement of the US Geological Survey, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Health.
The project was being conducted to determine whether the virus can be spread to nearby wildlife away from the infected mink farms.
“There is currently no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is circulating or has been established in wild populations surrounding the infected mink farms,” reads the alert. “Several animals from different wildlife species were sampled, but all others tested negative.”
“The sequence of the viral genome obtained from the wild mink sample at NVSL [National Veterinary Services Laboratories] was indistinguishable from those obtained from the farmed mink,” the advisory added.
Officials have referred the discovery to the World Organization for Animal Health.
The discovery comes as authorities in Denmark were forced to kill millions of farmed mink after concerns emerged that the animals were contracting COVID-19 from infected farms. The ordeal saw the country’s agricultural minister step down from his post after it was found that the government did not have the legal basis to issue such an order.