At least two people have caught the coronavirus from mink in the Netherlands, in probably the first mink-to-human transmission cases. The risk of infection outside mink farms is “negligible,” Dutch officials said.

The Dutch government on Monday said that it was “highly likely” that a person had been infected with the coronavirus by a mink, following a similar case last week.

Mink are bred for their fur at some 155 farms across the country. The authorities detected infected animals at four such locations, Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten said in a letter to parliament. At three out of four farms, a sick human was thought to be the source of the infection among the animals, while officials were still investigating the cause at the fourth one, the minister said.

This general view shows barrier tape cordoning off buildings of a mink farm at Beek en Donk, eastern Netherlands on April 26, 2020, after tests showed that animals within had been infected with the new coronavirus (COVID-19). (Getty Images/B. en Donk)

Several mink farms in the Netherlands have noted human-to-mink transmission, the reverse is rarer

The mink farms are set to close in 2023 due to a law passed before the coronavirus outbreak. Amid the latest developments, some veterinarians accused Schouten of trying to downplay the risk of the animal-to-human infection and pressured the government to clear out heavy-hit farms. However, Schouten has so far rejected the push. Addressing Dutch lawmakers on Monday, Schouten said the risk of humans getting infected outside farms was “negligible.”

Dutch pets confirmed infected

Reports of humans infecting their animals, particularly cats and dogs, have appeared in various countries across the world since the beginning of the current pandemic. At least four house pets tested positive in the Netherlands last month. Minister Schouten has urged COVID-19 patients to “avoid contact with their animals.”

However, the latest mink-to-human transmission was virtually unique, said the head of the country’s health insitute, Jaap van Dissel, on Monday.

“This is the first time we’ve found, at least we’ve shown that it’s likely, that in two cases the infection has gone from animal to human,” he said. “Of course the original source of infection in China was also very likely animals,” he added.

dj/msh (dpa, Reuters)

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