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Mutating COVID and Mink….What’s the Story?

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Tabitha111 View Drop Down
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    Posted: November 07 2020 at 6:18am


By Scott Weese on November 6, 2020


What’s the story with mink in Denmark?


Denmark is one of the largest mink producing countries, and numerous farms have been infected (from farm workers). At last report, 216 farms were infected.

That wasn’t surprising since that’s been seen in various countries. The issue is a recent report by the Serum Statens Institute (SSI) and some government releases about ‘mink strains’ of the virus and large numbers of human infections with the strain.


Crap….mutated virus. That sounds bad.


Not necessarily. Viruses mutate all the time. It’s a random event. It’s more likely to occur when there are large numbers of infected individuals….more opportunities for random mutation.

 A mink farm with thousands of closely housed and highly susceptible mink is a great place for that. It’s also probably more likely when it moves between species, as some random mutations might make it easier for the virus to infect their new host species.


So, what’s going on?


Five different types of variant strains have been found in mink. These have included mutations in the spike protein. That’s what the virus uses to attach to cells.

If a mutation increases the ability to attach to cells of a given species, it becomes more infectious. If it decreases affinity, it makes it less infectious. The spike protein is also an important vaccine target, raising some concerns about whether it could affect the effectiveness of some vaccines that are being developed (a bit more on that below). One particular variant has been found in human samples too, some from people that were connected to the farms and some that weren’t.


As part of their broader surveillance, the variant strain has been found in 214/5102 virus isolates from people. 94% of these were in North Jutland, the area where most infected farms are. This mink variant accounted for 40% of the isolates in that area. That’s impressive (and not in a good way).


The SSI report says “SSI estimated that continued mink breeding would entail a significant risk of recurrence of a large spread of infection among mink and humans, as seen in Western Denmark in 2020. SSI estimated that this would pose a major risk to public health. 

Both know that the many infected mink farms can lead to a greater disease burden among humans, and know that a large virus reservoir in mink increases the risk of new virus mutations occurring again, which vaccines may not provide optimal protection against.

Overall, the immunity gained through vaccination or past infection may also be at risk of being weakened or absent. The overall conclusion, which was also supported by the Danish Health and Medicines Authority, was therefore that continued mink breeding during an ongoing COVID-19 epidemic entails a significant risk to public health. Including the possibilities for optimally preventing COVID-19 with vaccines.”


Is this really a ‘mink strain’?


It’s hard to say. It’s a strain that has been found in mink. It might have mutated in them or it might have mutated in the person that infected them. Most likely, it did evolve in the mink, spread to people, then those people spread it to other people.


Also, everyone’s talking about it like it’s one strain. There are actually various strains linked to mink. One is getting the most attention, though.


They’re saying hundreds of people are infected with this strain. How does it happen? Are mink everywhere in Denmark?


No. But people are. This is a situation where (I assume), most of the transmission is human-human transmission of this virus. It came from people, changed in the mink, but is now back to being transmitted widely be people.


So, why do we care?


There are a few concerns.


Anytime we see movement into another species, that’s a concern. Mink infecting people isn’t the real concern, since few people have contact with mink. The issue is whether mink can complicate control.

More species means more problems to deal with. They’re culling affected and neighbouring farms, so that’s less of a longterm concern. However, as more mink farms get infected, that creates more opportunities for new strains to emerge.


Related to the above, the last thing we want is this virus in wildlife. Transmission to cats has been found on mink farms in the Netherlands,

Fortunately, so far, we haven’t seen issues with wildlife (but we didn’t see issues with mink until we had big issues with mink…if you get my drift). Mink create a potential bridge to other species, and we don’t want that.



And the big one….


Is this mutation a problem for people?


Early lab data suggest that this virus isn’t neutralized as well by antibodies from people infected with ‘normal’ strains. That could impact the effectiveness of antibody-based treatments or vaccines.

It’s too early to say there’s a relevant issue but it’s something that needs to be looked at, as if it’s relevant. If it impacts vaccination, we start getting into a situation where we might need a vaccine that covers multiple strains (and none of the billions of dollars in vaccine development money has been spent looking at this strain)



Some new outlets have talked about the chance for a ‘new pandemic’. Is that realistic?


No. Our current pandemic is doing just fine and isn’t going to be displaced.

We are effectively passing the original virus and we will probably effectively pass this other virus too. It’s not likely to change the character of the pandemic (unless it impacts treatment or prevention). There’s no evidence that it causes more serious disease.


What does this mean in the big picture?


It’s too early to say. Whether this is an academic curiosity, a mutation that shows some interesting epidemiological data but has not health impact or is the sign of a problem is hard to say.


What do we do?


Relax

Avoid kissing mink (most mink would eat your face if you tried, anyway)

Continue to pay attention to animals as potential sources of infection

Most importantly…..control human-human spread. The best way to prevent the spread of mink-strain COVID is to prevent spread of COVID.

And, in the big picture (jumping on my soapbox), this is why I’ve been saying these things since January.

It’s why we criticized groups like CDC that said ‘there’s no evidence animals can be infected’ before there was any effort to find out. We need to approach emerging diseases proactively…..we need to look for potential problems to control them, rather than waiting for definitive evidence of a problem.



'A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.'
--Confucius

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Usk Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 08 2020 at 12:03am
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