The Michigan Mink Mystery: How An Interspecies Epidemic Arose


But determining when and in whom the mutations first appeared would require much more virus samples from farm workers, local residents and mink before and after the outbreak. “This data is not available,” said Arinjay Banerjee, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan.

During 2020, tests were difficult for Americans to access, and few patient samples were being sequenced. Surveillance in animals was even worse; until this springfederal officials have explicitly recommended routine testing of animals for the virus.

Dr. “There was no widespread testing available, then there was a shortage of certain materials,” Behravesh said. “So, you know, we didn’t want there to be a crazy rush to test the animals.”

The scientists said that without more examples, it’s impossible to rule out the possibility that the variant arose in humans and then spread it to the mink.

The bigger puzzle is how the taxidermist and his wife got it. Several experts said the most likely possibility is that the variant circulates more widely in the human population than known, with the couple contracting it from another infected person.

Another more speculative possibility is that they may have inherited the variant from another animal species. “Taxidermists deal with other dead animals,” said Linda Saif, a virologist and immunologist at Ohio State University.

However, because the cases were detected “weeks to months” after two of them fell ill, testing any animals they may have come into contact with was “not appropriate or specified”, said Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for Michigan DHHS.


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