"Savagely important problem": do minks suffer from coronavirus on Russian farms?

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"Savagely important problem": do minks suffer from coronavirus on Russian farms?
"Savagely important problem": do minks suffer from coronavirus on Russian farms?
5 January, 13:59Society
The coronavirus has become an epidemic not only for humans, but also for animals. The pandemic has already dealt a devastating blow to fur farming in Europe, where minks are being slaughtered. How safe are animals raised during the pandemic?

Irina Mishina

It all started with a message that NI received from the international organization Open Cells. The video contained shocking footage of the minks slowly dying. The animals were thrown into the gas chamber, and the survivors were beaten with a metal rod. The video was filmed at a mink farm in Poland, in the village of Dlugye Stary. This is one of the evidences of how hastily fur farms in Europe are getting rid of potential carriers of coronavirus.

Recently, an international group of 22 scientists reported that birds and mammals can carry up to 850 thousand not yet discovered viruses that pose a potential threat to humans. The Daily Mail reports. In their report, biologists, ecologists and virologists are sounding the alarm: without urgent measures to protect wildlife, new pandemics will occur more often and on a larger scale. According to the researchers, action is needed to prevent animal diseases, not attempts to respond to them after the outbreak of a pandemic with the help of vaccines. Animals can be carriers of up to 850 thousand viruses unknown to science that carry a potential threat. Only about five new diseases are diagnosed in humans every year, each of which can trigger a pandemic. Against this background, an animal pandemic looks much more dangerous.

How do animals become the carriers of the virus?

Alarming news coming from European countries these days speaks of a massive infection of minks with coronavirus on farms in Italy, Spain, USA, Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark. In Denmark, the virus mutated and spread to humans. The Prime Minister of the country Mette Frederiksen gave the order to destroy all the animals. WHO is testing how the mink can transmit coronavirus infection to humans. But one way or another, in the near future more than 15 million animals will be killed in Denmark, and in the coming years the breeding of minks may be completely banned.

Does this mean that pets are potential carriers of the coronavirus?

“Only minks appear to have surface structures in the airways that the virus needs to attach to them: then it can enter the cells of the body and cause disease. These surface structures are similar in mink and in humans to the point that the virus attaches to mucous membranes of both minks and humans with the same ease, which is a big problem, says Hans Jörn Kolmos, microbiologist and professor at the Danish Technical University . - Can the infection spread and mutate in pig herds? Of the 16 pigs tested in Canada, a third were infected. So there is no definite answer at the moment”, - the professor explained.

Novye Izvestia asked for clarification from a molecular biologist, senior researcher at the University of Utah (USA), founder of Sendai Viralitics, Olga Matveyeva, which is researching coronavirus mutations. “Mink is the only fur animal known so far that can contract the covid virus from humans and, in turn, infect people,” reassured Olga Matveeva. - Minks are seriously ill and often die from this viral disease. Moreover, minks are capable of infecting each other with a virus. In the process of such infection, the virus can evolve, quickly accumulate new mutations and be transmitted to humans. On fur farms, minks are kept in very crowded conditions, this is an ideal environment for the spread of the virus. The coronavirus has been found in minks at zoological farms in the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy and the United States. Given the ability of this virus to mutate, the ability of animals to become infected and infect with coronavirus cannot be ruled out. Compliance with hygienic measures when working with pets is very important!”, Molecular biologist Olga Matveyeva told Novye Izvestia.

Should I buy a fur coat during a pandemic?

It seems that the production of mink fur in Denmark is now coming to an end due to public health reasons”, - said Thorbjörn Sjöning of the animal welfare movement Anima. Denmark has already decided to mass slaughter minks, which effectively puts an end to fur farming in this country.

The Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation currently has no data on the infection of animals with coronavirus in Russian fur farms. We were informed about this in a press release from the Ministry of Agriculture, which came in response to a request from Novye Izvestia. “The Ministry of Agriculture of Russia did not receive information about the facts of detecting a new coronavirus infection in animals at domestic fur farms. According to the Rosselkhoznadzor, in December 2020, in a number of fur farms in the country, a monitoring program was implemented for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome, 1,148 samples from fur-bearing animals were examined, the virus genome was not found", - the Ministry of Agriculture of Russia told NI...

We also asked the Russian Rosselkhoznadzor about the measures that are being taken in Russia to prevent the infection of domestic animals with the coronavirus.

Rosselkhoznadzor is taking preventive measures for Russian fur farming and farms, including those that are exporters of furs, in order to prevent the possibility of a situation similar to the one that has developed in Denmark, where the fur farming industry is on the brink of destruction. At present, the Service interacts with the administrations of all large fur farms. They are advised to strengthen biosafety measures; they should report changes in animal behavior and clinical condition; they should take samples of biomaterials from minks, ferrets and sables for laboratory research at accredited institutions subordinate to the Russian Agricultural Supervision Authority. At all enterprises involved in mink breeding, sanitary measures have been strengthened, appropriate requirements and rules have been introduced. All fur farms are closed. Entry and entry to unauthorized persons is prohibited. There is a strict admission system. Checkpoints on farms are equipped with the necessary disinfectants. Rosselkhoznadzor scientists are developing a vaccine for the specific prevention of COVID-19 among susceptible animals. An experimental vaccine was produced in the fall. Preclinical studies have proven the safety and high immunogenicity of the drug. In October, clinical trials began on 40 cats and 40 dogs. After vaccination, the animals did not show any negative reactions from the side of general health. Clinical trials on domestic animals are ongoing, and trials of the vaccine on fur-bearing animals (minks, ferrets) have also begun. The approximate date for the completion of work on a vaccine for animals is January 2021", - the Rosselkhoznadzor told NI.

Does this mean that, for the first time in many years, Russia will have a chance to regain its fame as a fur exporter? According to the National Association of Fur Breeders, among the reasons hindering fur production are the introduction of 20% VAT on products in 2019, low purchasing power of the population, as well as the situation with the coronavirus pandemic. “The industry was not recognized as affected. The volume of revenue decreased by 8 times. Enterprises operate in the negative range”, - complains the executive director of the association Nadezhda Zubkova . However, some regions have already started giving subsidies to fur farms. For example, the director of Agrofirma Bagrationovskaya (Kaliningrad, is engaged in the production of mink skins) Vladimir Ryabichko said that the government of the Kaliningrad region during the pandemic issued subsidies in the amount of 20 million rubles, which were used to pay salaries to employees of the agricultural firm.

If the mass slaughtering of minks continues in Europe, then Russian fur breeders will have a chance: after all, Rosselkhoznadzor has not revealed any cases of domestic animal diseases in the Russian Federation today. "If Denmark clogs the entire mink, then the Russian fur farmers will be a plus, the market will free up a bit, the price may rise", - predicts Sergey Tsyplenkov from the Magistralny Altai complex.Despite the decline in global exports of fur raw materials in recent years, Russian mink exports are at a stable level - about 3.5 million US dollars per year (3.4 million US dollars in January-October 2020). The main importing countries are Poland, Belarus and Finland", - the Ministry of Agriculture of Russia told Novye Izvestia.

Pet coronavirus test.

As for other pets, they can now be tested for coronavirus. The first test system for diagnosing the causative agent of COVID-19 in animals has been created in Russia.

Домашние питомцы теперь тоже под контролем. Фото: Сергей Бобылев/ТАСС.

The test was developed by a scientific institution of the Rosselkhoznadzor - the Federal Center for Animal Health (FGBI "ARRIAH"). The adviser to the head of the department Julia Melano told reporters about it. Until now, only test systems have been developed in Russia for diagnosing COVID-19 in humans. The new technique allows to identify the causative agent of COVID-19 in different animals, including dogs and cats: for this they will take oral, nasal and other samples of biological material.

Of course, there is no need to test animals for COVID-19. But it makes sense to take samples from animals with signs of the disease or from those who have been in contact with an infected person. Diagnostic kits will go primarily to large cities where the number of infected people is growing, as well as to settlements with international airports. The new methodology will also test pets that return with their owners from abroad.

No matter how fur farming develops, one thing is important: domestic animals on Russian fur farms are not carriers of the coronavirus. And its potential carriers can be checked if desired. At least in this we are still “ahead of all Europe”.

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