Research and analysis

HAIRS risk assessment: SARS-CoV-2 in Mustelinae population

Qualitative assessment of the risk SARS-CoV-2 infection in UK-captive Mustelinae (such as mink, ferrets and weasels) populations presents to the UK human population.


Qualitative assessment of the risk that SARS-CoV-2 infection in UK Mustelinae presents to the UK human population

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On 4 November 2020, Danish authorities reported the emergence of a SARS-CoV-2 variant in mink and a small number of associated human cases which, on preliminary investigations, demonstrated reduced sensitivity to neutralising antibodies when tested against antibodies collected from people with previous SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Although investigations are ongoing, these preliminary findings have raised concerns over the risk of this or other variants arising in Mustelinae species, which may potentially hamper COVID-19 intervention efforts (vaccine and therapeutics).

This risk assessment addresses:

  1. The risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in captive Mustelinae species (ferrets, weasels, mink and polecats) in the UK and not other potential zoonotic sources (including Mustelidae species, such as badgers and otters) of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

  2. The risk of UK’s captive Mustelinae population producing Mustelinae specific SARS-CoV-2 variants.

  3. The risk of direct Mustelinae-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2. While the group recognises that if or once a Mustelinae-adapted strain infects direct human contacts there is a risk of onward, and possibly sustained, transmission within the human population, an assessment of the impact of this possibility sits outside the scope of this risk assessment.

Published 11 November 2020