Denmark forced an entire region into lockdown after discovering a mutated form of the coronavirus that jumped from mink to human.
Health officials fear the newly identified strain, which the country's prime minister warned, poses "a serious public health risk" could prevent a Covid-19 vaccine before it is even found to work.
Denmark has placed seven cities in North Jutland on an emergency lockdown and ordered the extermination of all up to 17 million mink in the country to prevent further spread of the burden.
As part of the call to close borders with the nation, the UK and Germany have added the country to their quarantine lists.
Tests found that when the virus jumped from humans into minks on fur farms, the virus mutated its spike proteins – which allow it to enter cells – to more easily infect the animals.
But when the virus was transmitted back to humans, it carried this mutation with it, which scientists in Denmark claim makes Covid-19 antibodies less effective.
Antibodies are disease-fighting proteins that are made and stored by the immune system to help ward off intruders in the future by attaching to their spike proteins. However, if they cannot recognize proteins because they are mutated, it may mean that the second time the body is having difficulty attacking a virus, leading to a second infection.
Authorities have no evidence that the strain is more contagious or deadly. They insist that there is nothing to worry about and that mutations are constant and usually harmless.
Five different strains of the mutated mink coronavirus have been sighted in 214 people in Denmark since June. An analysis by the Danish State Serum Institute found that only one of them – known as Cluster 5 – is less sensitive to antibodies.
It was found in 11 people in North Jutland who were banned and one in neighboring Zealand. Of the five establishments where it was identified, only three were linked to four infected people, suggesting the strain is spreading between people in the community.
Denmark has forced an entire region to lock down and ordered the culling of up to 17 million minks after five mutant mink strains of the coronavirus were identified in 12 people
Authorities are particularly concerned about a strain called Cluster 5, which is less effective at fighting Covid-19 antibodies in humans, leading to an increased risk of re-infection
Cluster 5 was found in 11 people in North Jutland (above) and one person in Zealand (island). Denmark has closed seven areas in Jutland
HOW DANGEROUS IS THE MUTED MINK CORONAVIRUS? And should you be concerned?
The Danish authorities are concerned about the effects of the new strain on humans and whether it will affect the effectiveness of a vaccine.
They claimed today that the strain – called cluster 5 – did not cause any more serious illness in humans and was not more contagious.
Scientists at the Danish State Serum Institute say the mutated coronavirus appears to be less sensitive to an attack by Covid-19 antibodies – which weakens the body's immune response to it.
The antibodies are designed to bind to a spike protein on the virus, which allows it to enter cells, render them inoperable, and prevent the virus from causing infection.
But in the mink trunk, some of the spike proteins have a different shape, which means that the antibodies are less able to attach to them and stop infection.
If this strain becomes widespread and is found to be effective at infecting humans, it could jeopardize the effectiveness of a future vaccine against Covid-19.
The Cluster 5 strain was identified as a risk after testing in laboratories, said the Danish State Serum Institute (ISS) in a report.
Tests on cluster 1 showed that its mutations did not interfere with the immune response to infection.
The laboratory analysis of the other three clusters has not yet been completed and it may take several weeks for the results to be available.
The ISS said the results of the analysis of Cluster 5 viruses were "worrying" as they "could potentially have an impact on the future of Covid-19 vaccinations against infection".
They added: “There may also be a risk of compromised immunity to these after a Covid-19 infection.
Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline that there was currently no reason to be concerned about the newly identified strain.
"The theoretical risk is that natural mutations in the virus selected in the mink could produce a virus that, if passed on to humans, is a new strain that the current vaccine may not work against," he said .
& # 39; There are many reasons this is unlikely to be a problem.
First, these cases are limited to mink farms that are so local. They have been identified and the animals killed so the source of the virus has disappeared and there is an awareness that it needs to be verified elsewhere.
Second, there is no evidence that the "mink virus" poses a greater risk than the original, making it unlikely to spread, although it has been demonstrated that the virus was retransmitted from the mink to humans.
Third, the vaccine produces a "polyvalent" response to the virus, many different antibodies, and few of them would be affected by the mutations in the mink virus, most antibodies would still bind. In other words, it is very unlikely to be an all-or-nothing effect, and the vaccine would likely protect against the mink virus, at least to some extent. & # 39;
Dr. Lucy van Dorp, a geneticist at University College London, examined the genomes of the mutated mink Covid-19 from the Netherlands and Denmark, which were published earlier this year.
She told MailOnline that mutations are a "natural part" of virus development and the "vast majority" are unlikely to have any effect.
"Infections in mink have been known since the beginning of April," she said. & # 39; Since then, some mutations appear to have appeared in SARS-CoV-2 that may be specific to mink infections. This could be a signal for the virus to adapt to infected minks.
"Without further evidence, adaptation to mink is unlikely to result in exposure that poses a higher risk to humans."
When the animals were slaughtered, empty mink cages were shown across the country. But animal rights activists have cautiously welcomed the move, saying it could help end the cruel industry
Above, culled minks lie in a heap on a farm in Farre in southern Jutland
Downing Street described the decision to put Denmark on the quarantine list as a "precautionary measure" after English professor Chris Whitty's chief medical officer advised him.
"While there have been some rare reports of mink transmission to people on mink farms, we do not see this as a risk to the UK, where there are no fur farms," a # 10 spokesman said.
"Of course we will work with international partners to understand the changes in the virus reported in Denmark and we will be closely monitoring the situation."
Germany added Denmark to its quarantine list this afternoon in response to the newly identified strain.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen last night blocked seven municipalities in the North Jutland region where Cluster 5 has been identified.
Residents were ordered to stay in the area, public transport stopped, and restaurants, bars and gyms were told to pull down their shutters.
"We have a great responsibility to our own people, but with the mutation we have now found, we also have an even greater responsibility for the rest of the world," she said at a press conference last night.
"The mutated virus in the mink could pose a risk that future (coronavirus) vaccines will not work as they should," the Prime Minister said, adding that it "is at risk of being spread from Denmark to other countries" if no action is taken. "
"The world's eyes are on us," she added.
But farmers in the region parked their tractors in front of the state building in Holstebro, Jutland, this morning to protest the measure.
World Health Organization technical director Maria Van Kerkhove said yesterday Denmark is taking steps to prevent the creation of a new "animal reservoir" for the virus.
WHO's top emergency expert Mike Ryan added that other industries – including pig and poultry farming – have "very strict" biosecurity measures in place to keep viruses from jumping through the species barrier.
Mink farmers' tractors lined up long lines in Holstebro, Jutland to protest the mass extermination of mink and ordered the lockdown
The farmer's tractors formed long lines in the streets to show resistance
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said immediate action was needed during a press conference on Thursday as "the world's eyes are on us"
Are we facing a new pandeMINK? Denmark is about to slaughter its entire 17 million mink farm population after finding a mutant strain of Covid that may be resistant to a vaccine … no wonder fur flies
By John Naish for the Daily Mail
When it comes to coronavirus, we get used to gloomy news: death rates, new cases, second waves, spikes, spikes, so-called "long covid".
But an alarming new development in Denmark this week has dwarfed the familiar litany of doom. Twelve people in the north of the country are said to have been infected with a mutated version of the coronavirus that they caught from the mink.
With an annual turnover of around 1.1 billion euros, Denmark is the world's largest manufacturer of mink fur. Now there is a massive culling of around 17 million mink on 1,500 farms.
Of course the fur industry – which employs 2,500 people – is in turmoil, but it seems that the Danish government had no choice.
Twelve people in northern Denmark are said to have been infected with a mutated version of the coronavirus that they caught from the mink. Pictured: a mink farmer holds up a mink when police forcefully gain access to his farm
Although the human victims of the mutated mink virus were not seriously ill, scientists at the Danish State Serum Institute found that the mutated coronavirus appeared to weaken the body's ability to make antibodies against the virus. "The new strain has shown decreased sensitivity to antibodies," warned the researchers.
This could jeopardize the effectiveness of a future vaccine against the Covid-19 virus. In other words, even if the defenses of the human immune system are boosted by a new vaccine (or naturally produced antibodies against Covid-19), we may not be immune to the new version with mink mutation.
So are we seeing the start of a terrifying new chapter in the history of Covid-19, where the virus proves it can mutate into several new forms that infect pets and farm animals, and then come back to re-infect humans?
Possibly. As early as April, virologists from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam came across cases in which the coronavirus jumped from people to mink and back again. This is a process known as zoonosis.
Denmark is on the verge of a massive cull of around 17 million mink housed in 1,500 farms. Pictured: Employees from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and the Danish Emergency Management Agency wear protective equipment to kill minks in Gjol, Denmark
In evolutionary terms, switching between species, mixing with other viruses, and "swapping" genes is one way for any virus to survive by constantly confusing the host's immune system, whether animal or human.
When I raised the prospect of this threat to one of Europe's foremost virology experts, Simon Wain-Hobson of the Pasteur Institute in France, he said, "If someone were to isolate a novel coronavirus from such a mammal, I would swallow."
Well, this week it was Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen's turn to swallow.
When she announced the cull, she said the mutated mink virus could have "devastating consequences worldwide" if action is not taken immediately.
Denmark is not the only country that is forced to act. In June, the Dutch authorities started gassing tens of thousands of mink for coronavirus infection.
A month later, Spain killed 100,000 mink after cases were discovered on a farm in the province of Aragón.
Neither cull is believed to have eliminated the problem, but there is evidence that the Danes did not get their mink pandemic from either the Dutch or the Spanish.
It appears to be an entirely separate outbreak that shows how the human, animal, and human infection problem can keep recurring.
Of course the fur industry – which employs 2,500 people – is in turmoil, but it seems that the Danish government had no choice. Stock image.
History shows that viruses that develop in animals and species jump to infect humans are among the most dangerous and enduring enemies of mankind.
Pandemic flu, for example, developed in poultry and pigs. Measles originally came from cows.
New emerging killers like Ebola, SARS and Covid-19 came from bats. Once the viruses learn to change in this way, they can acquire even more lethal powers.
The concern boils down to this: when the virus leaps from humans to other animals, it can effectively learn deadly new tricks that will make it more contagious, deadly, and allow the virus to defeat the best drugs or vaccines. This learning process is known as "viral recombination".
It happens when two different strains of virus infect the same animal cell, mix together and then produce new viruses that contain some genes from both "parents".
Instead of finding a vaccine to defeat Covid-19 once and for all, we could end up playing an endless game against the rat (or cat, or mink, or bat, hamster, ferret, or macaque) – they've all been called Covid- infected) as the virus continually mutates, shifts species, and then returns to re-infect us.
In intensive agriculture – like the mink industry – this threat becomes most alarming.
When a virus spreads rapidly in a large, dense population (animal or human), it can develop into increasingly deadly forms even faster.
Because in this situation it doesn't matter if the virus kills its host extremely quickly (and thus decreases its own chance of survival) – it can easily move on to another of the same species and simply claim victim after victim in a huge grueling spree.
In September, Dutch virologists warned in the online journal bioRxiv that their evidence suggests that the mink virus actually developed faster than in humans.
Urgent studies are underway to find out how and why mink caught and spread the infection.
So should we be worried here in the UK? When it comes to mink, the UK seems immune at first glance.
After decades of protests against animal welfare, Parliament banned all fur farming in 2000. At that time there were only 11 mink farms in operation, producing around 100,000 pelts annually.
However, the flight of the American mink from fur farms resulted in the animals breeding here in the wild since the late 1950s. By 1967 the species had established itself in half of England, Wales and the Scottish lowlands.
This is no surprise, because once minks break out, they are notoriously difficult to contain, not least because they are such strong swimmers.
They can destroy entire populations of ground-nesting birds and water mice.
However, in recent years the UK Mammal Society has found that the numbers of wild mink in the UK have decreased significantly. This is likely due to the fact that the carnivores almost wiped out their favorite prey, the water mouse.
Worryingly, however, evidence already shows that not only minks are involved in this doomsday cycle of human-animal-human infection. Some of our closest and most popular companions can get involved.
A study presented by scientists from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, to the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases suggests that a large proportion of dogs and cats may already have caught Covid-19 from their owners.
The study, published in September, showed that in households where people caught and survived Covid-19, the pets also had high levels of Covid-19 – as evidenced by antibodies in their blood.
88 percent of the cats examined for the study and 20 percent of the dogs tested positive.
Similarly, a report in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases said that researchers in Hong Kong who tested 50 cats from households infected with Covid-19 found that six cats tested positive for it.
"Transmission from cats to humans is theoretically possible," warned the researchers.
We now know from Denmark's experience with mink that the virus can learn to develop and re-infect humans in a genetically modified state.
How long does it take for Covid-19 to learn whole new levels of terrifying skills from regularly infecting pets like dogs and cats?
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