Paris, 12 November 2020 – The risk of susceptible animals, such as mink, becoming a SARS-CoV-2 reservoir generates worldwide concern, as it could pose a continued public health risk and lead to future spillover events to humans. Recent surveillance findings in Denmark suggest that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, introduced into minks through contact with humans, is evolving through viral mutation and has been reintroduced to humans.
The OIE acknowledges that such events could have important public health implications. While the COVID-19 pandemic is currently sustained through human-to-human transmission, there are concerns that the introduction and circulation of new virus strains in humans could result in modifications of transmissibility or virulence and decreased treatment and vaccine efficacy. Yet, the full consequences remain unknown, and further investigation is needed to fully understand the impact of these mutations.
Close collaboration between animal and public health authorities is imperative to better identify and reduce the impact of this disease. Furthermore, a global One Health approach is needed to understand the risks for animal and human health, as well as ecosystem health as a whole.
The OIE calls on countries to protect animal health and welfare, and consequently public health, by implementing effective risk management measures. Actions should be taken to:
Prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between humans and susceptible animals, by implementing national risk reduction strategies;
Monitor susceptible animals, such as mink and raccoon dogs, as well as humans in close contact with them, for SARS-CoV-2 infection, adopting a One Health approach. Active monitoring is recommended as it might be difficult to detect early infections in these animals, especially mink;
Report animal cases to the OIE through the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS);
Share genetic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 viruses isolated from animals and other research findings with the global health community.
To support countries in the implementation of these measures, the OIE has developed guidelines for people working with susceptible farmed animals, as well as with wild mammals in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The OIE will continue to engage with its members, experts, and partners notably the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to update technical guidance as new scientific findings and information become available.