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Daily News Analysis

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

10th November, 2020 Health

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

  • 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.
  • Danish Public Health Authority 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?

  • 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.
  • 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.

Why is this cause for concern?

  • 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.

So what does this mean?

  • 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.

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.