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Nov. 6, 2020 -- The spread of COVID-19 in Danish mink farms has triggered Denmark's decision to cull the entire mink population -- up to 17 million animals -- to stop the spread of the mutated form of the coronavirus found in the animals.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, at a news conference Wednesday, said the virus strain was found in 12 people and feared the infection with the mutated strain could threaten how well future vaccines work. But Danish officials say several variants of the coronavirus found in minks have been discovered in more than 200 human cases, The Guardian newspaper reported.

Officials at a World Health Organization news conference Friday downplayed the risk and stressed that they were on top of the situation.

"Right now, the evidence that we have doesn't suggest this variant [found in minks] is in any way different in the way it behaves," said Michael Ryan, MD, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program. "It is the same virus."

"Mammals like mink are good hosts," he said, and the close quarters on mink farms help the virus spread.

While Denmark's prime minister fears the variant could result in threatening how well future vaccines work, Ryan and other WHO officials said ''we are a long way" from determining the impact on vaccines.

As of Thursday, according to NBC News, 216 mink farms in Denmark were infected. The Associated Press says there are more than 1,300 mink farms in Denmark.

A team of scientists sent a letter to Science, published Oct. 30, noting that COVID-19 ''has been found in minks in the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and the United States." The spread in Danish farms ''spun out of control" in October, the scientists write, resulting in a threat to public health. The scientists warn that the virus could spread from minks to humans.

Most of the 50 million minks produced annually are from China, Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland, the scientists write. The Netherlands plans to ban mink farming by the end of 2020. The scientists say China, Denmark, and Poland should do the same.

Show Sources

News conference, World Health Organization, Nov. 6, 2020.

Science: "Ban unsustainable mink production."

Amesh Adalja, MD, senior scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The Guardian: “Experts urge caution over Denmark's mink coronavirus scare.”

The Associated Press: “North Denmark in lockdown over mutated virus in mink farms.”

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