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Hundreds of mink dead from COVID-19 on Fraser Valley farm in B.C.

Click to play video 'Fraser Valley mink farm COVID-19 outbreak raises concern about virus mutation' Fraser Valley mink farm COVID-19 outbreak raises concern about virus mutation
An infectious disease specialist from UBC Dr. Jan Hajek says he's worried about the risk of mutation after a COVID-19 outbreak at a Fraser Valley mink farm. – Dec 11, 2020

An outbreak of COVID-19 on a Fraser Valley mink farm is believed to have led to the deaths of at least 200 mink.

B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries said Friday night that an estimated one per cent of the farm’s mink population have died in the past week.

“The majority of the mink on the farm do not appear to be showing symptoms, and we understand the mortality rate has slowed in recent days,” the Ministry said in a statement to Global News.

Read more: Mink on farm in B.C.’s Fraser Valley test positive for COVID-19

Early this month it was revealed that eight workers at the farm tested positive for COVID-19 and that the animals were being tested to see if they have contracted the virus.

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Testing results from the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg confirmed that so far, five mink samples have tested positive for the virus.

“As the mink were isolated on the farm, the almost certain line of exposure and source of transmission of the virus to the mink would have been through the farm workers,” the ministry said.

Click to play video 'Mutation concerns rise over COVID-19 outbreak at B.C. mink farm' Mutation concerns rise over COVID-19 outbreak at B.C. mink farm
Mutation concerns rise over COVID-19 outbreak at B.C. mink farm – Dec 7, 2020

The Ministry has not released the name of the farm, citing potential public safety concerns.

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The farm has been ordered to restrict the transport of animals, products and goods during this time.

The virus is currently limited to one mink farm in the Fraser Valley, according to the Ministry.

Read more: Containing COVID-19 outbreak to single B.C. mink farm essential, say experts

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Sally Otto, a mathematical biologist at UBC, called the news devastating – but not a shock to hear.

“A mink farm is probably the easiest place for a disease like COVID to spread and of course the ones dying today would potentially have been affected a week or two weeks ago,” she said.

“So that kind of exponential growth is not really that surprising.”

Otto is waiting for the results of genome sequencing testing done by the provincial government that will determine if and how the virus has mutated after infecting the mink.

“There could be this kind of faster evolutionary shift following a host switch, so that’s what we’d be looking out for,” she said.

“But if it’s just the kind of mutation we’re seeing among humans, then it’s not so much a worry about mutations like it was in Denmark.”

Otto said in Denmark, there were concerns that the virus had gone through a particularly worrying mutation, with potential impacts on the efficacy of vaccines.

The country culled 17 million mink as a precautionary measure.

Read more: Denmark mulls digging up, burning COVID-infected ‘zombie mink’

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Otto said the situation right now – and a possibility, however faint, that B.C. could have to resort to a cull as well – is all the proof we need to re-evaluate the ways in which the fur farm industry operates.

“This really calls into question the ways in which we are interacting with wildlife, and having wildlife in close contact with one another in very unnatural ways so diseases can spread like wildfire.”

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