Dutch farm worker caught virus from infected mink, authorities say

A farm worker is believed to have contracted the coronavirus from an infected mink in a rare case of animal-to-human transmission in the Netherlands.

The case occurred at a mink farm near the southern city of Eindhoven, where the small mammals are bred for their valuable fur.

At least two mink farms reported an outbreak of the virus last month, when keepers noticed some animals were having difficulty breathing.

A further investigation revealed one employee had likely been infected by one of the animals, Dutch agriculture minister Carola Schouten said on Wednesday.

In a letter to parliament, she said her previous advice that people could infect animals but not the other way around was wrong.

“It is concluded from this investigation that it is plausible that one employee of an infected mink farm was infected by mink,” she said.

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Ms Schouten said researchers confirmed the transmission by comparing the genetic code of the virus found in the mink to that of the patient, creating a “family tree” to map its mutation.

But she downplayed fears of further animal-to-human infections, saying it was a rare case and the only first reported in the Netherlands.

The country has now tightened measures around mink farms, banning people from visiting the stables and requiring all companies to be screened.

Ms Schouten said it was too soon to consider culling the minks, whose soft fur is sold in China, Korea, Greece and Turkey.

“We first want to get a broader picture of all breeding farms. Culling is the ultimate measure, first we want to take other measures,” she said.

Authorities say feral cats may have also helped spread the virus between farms.

When 11 cats were tested near one farm, three were found to have developed antibodies for the virus, showing they had previously been exposed to the disease.

RELATED: Likely human-to-animal transmission in Hong Kong

Health authorities in Hong Kong warned of a likely case of human-to-animal transmission back in March, when a woman’s pet dog tested positive for the virus.

At the time, they stressed there was still no evidence household pets could pass the virus on to humans or other animals.

A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in the United States also tested positive for the virus in April. The zoo believes it was infected by an employee who wasn’t showing symptoms.

More than 44,249 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the Netherlands and more than 5700 people have died.

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