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Investigations on SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses in mink farms in France at the end of the first year of COVID-19 pandemic
AbstractSoon after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, theBetacoronavirusSARS-CoV-2 infection of several mink farms breeding American minks (Neovison vison) for fur was detected in several countries of Europe. The risk of a new reservoir formation and of a reverse zoonosis from minks was then a major concern. The aim of this study was to investigate the four French mink farms for the circulation of SARS-CoV-2 at the end of 2020. The investigations took place during the slaughtering period thus facilitating different types of sampling (swabs and blood). In one of the four mink farms, 96.6% of serum samples were positive in SARS-CoV-2 ELISA coated with purified N protein recombinant antigen and 54 out of 162 (33%) pharyngo-tracheal swabs were positive by RT-qPCR. The genetic variability among 12 SARS-CoV-2 genomes sequenced in this farm indicated the co-circulation of several lineages at the time of sampling. All SARS-CoV-2 genomes detected were nested within the 20A clade (Nextclade), together with SARS-CoV-2 genomes from humans sampled at the same period. The percentage of SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity by ELISA varied between 0.5 and 1.2% in the three other farms. Interestingly, among these three farms, 11 pharyngo-tracheal swabs and 3 fecal pools from two farms were positive by end-point RT-PCR for anAlphacoronavirushighly similar to a mink coronavirus sequence observed in Danish farms in 2015. In addition, a minkCaliciviridaewas identified in one of the two positive farms forAlphacoronavirus. The clinical impact of these unapparent viral infections is not known. The co-infection of SARS-CoV-2 with other viruses in mink farms could contribute to explain the diversity of clinical symptoms noted in different infected farms in Europe. In addition, the co-circulation of anAlphacoronavirusand SARS-CoV-2 within a mink farm would increase potentially the risk of viral recombination between alpha and betacoronaviruses already suggested in wild and domestic animals, as well as in humans.Author summaryFrance is not a country of major mink fur production. Following the SARS-CoV-2 contamination of mink farms in Denmark and the Netherlands, the question arose for the four French farms.The investigation conducted at the same time in the four farms revealed the contamination of one of them by a variant different from the one circulating at the same time in Denmark and the Netherlands mink farms.Investigation of three other farms free of SARS-CoV-2 contamination revealed the circulation of other viruses including a mink Alphacoronavirus andCaliciviridae, which could modify the symptomatology of SARS-CoV-2 infection in minks.
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