Ferrets inoculated against Covid-19 to prevent reservoir of mutated variant

There is a fear in some quarters that Covid-19 will mutate in an animal reservoir where it will then be transmitted to people who will have no defence against it despite being inoculated with one of the current vaccines.

There is this general fear that animals – and at the moment the experts are only referring to wild animals – may harbour the disease in the form of a reservoir where it can then be transmitted to people later on at sometime in the future. What is doubly concerning is that the virus may mutate in animals and that the current vaccines may be ineffective against the new virus variants.

Black-footed ferret
Black-footed ferret. Photo: USFWS Mountain Prairie – Black-footed Ferret Uploaded by Mariomassone to Wikipedia.

This thought comes from probably a number of infectious disease experts including Cory Casper of the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle who was interviewed by The Denver Post. He said, “If the virus returns to the animal host and mutates in such a way that it could be reintroduced to humans, then the humans would no longer have that immunity. For contagious respiratory viruses it’s really important to be mindful of the animal reservoir.”

In this context, a rare species of ferret in North America (and an endangered species) has been inoculated against the disease. About 120 black-footed ferrets have been inoculated by scientists in Colorado. They may vaccinate other species such as mink. Black-footed ferrets were declared extinct in 1979 but then some were found in Wyoming. The ferrets are at the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Centre in Colorado.

You may remember the mass killing of all the mink in Denmark. They were farmed mink to produce fur for the Chinese market. The Danish government were fearful that a mutated version of the disease would be transmitted from the mink to humans and therefore took the dramatic step to kill them all which amounted to 17 million animals. A disaster in terms of animal welfare. Of course farming mink is also a disaster for animal welfare.

In November last year health officials in Denmark said that more than 200 humans were infected with the variant of the virus. This confirms the possibility of this zoonotic disease transfers from an animal reservoir to humans in mutated form. If this happens it will be another barrier to quelling the disease and I expect there to be many more anxious moments over perhaps one or two more years before humankind has mastered it.

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Post Category: Zoonotic