The infections, reported at two mink fur farms in the state of Utah, are thought to be the first in the US. Five minks were confirmed to have caught the virus. Testing began due to farms reporting higher death rates than usual.
In many areas around the world, minks – small mammals that are part of the weasel family – are farmed and skinned for coats and other clothing; though the industry in Europe is due to close in 2024 due to ethical concerns.
Cases amongst workers were also reported at the farms – though authorities stated there is no evidence to show humans caught the disease from the animals.
Scientists are investigating nonetheless. It is thought infections began when workers passed the disease to the animals.
However, animal studies expert Professor Wim van der Poel from Wageningen University said recently: “We assumed it was possible that it would be transmitted back to people again.”
Afterwards, the farms were disinfected. Government spokeswoman Frederique Hermie said: “All mink breeding farms where there is an infection will be cleared, and farms where there are no infections won’t be.”
However, the continued scale of the outbreaks has prompted the Dutch government to consider whether it should close down the industry entirely.
Under the Fur Animal Husbandry Act, the industry is due to stop operating on January 1 2024 in any case.
Animal rights group PETA has sent a letter to Carola Schouten, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, urging the Netherlands to end the mink farm industry immediately due to the outbreaks.
Peta said: “As there’s a very real risk that new zoonotic diseases could be transmitted to humans when animals are confined in intensive conditions, responsible governments must take all necessary steps to minimise the risk that the next pandemic will originate in their country.
“As in the case of live-animal meat markets, on fur farms, minks and other animals killed for their skin are confined to cramped wire cages adjacent to one another, making it very easy for infectious diseases to spread through the exchange of urine, excrement, pus, and blood.
“It comes as no surprise, then, that hunters, butchers, farmers, and fur handlers are among those who most commonly suffer from the zoonotic bacterial disease tularaemia.
“Allowing mink farms to maintain business as usual for nearly four more years – in the face of a global crisis stemming from animal exploitation – would be inexcusable from the perspective of both the risk posed to humans and the harm inflicted on the minks themselves.”