An Opportunistic Survey Reveals an Unexpected Coronavirus Diversity Hotspot in North America

Viruses. 2021 Oct 7;13(10):2016. doi: 10.3390/v13102016.


In summer 2020, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detected on mink farms in Utah. An interagency One Health response was initiated to assess the extent of the outbreak and included sampling animals from on or near affected mink farms and testing them for SARS-CoV-2 and non-SARS coronaviruses. Among the 365 animals sampled, including domestic cats, mink, rodents, raccoons, and skunks, 261 (72%) of the animals harbored at least one coronavirus. Among the samples that could be further characterized, 127 alphacoronaviruses and 88 betacoronaviruses (including 74 detections of SARS-CoV-2 in mink) were identified. Moreover, at least 10% (n = 27) of the coronavirus-positive animals were found to be co-infected with more than one coronavirus. Our findings indicate an unexpectedly high prevalence of coronavirus among the domestic and wild free-roaming animals tested on mink farms. These results raise the possibility that mink farms could be potential hot spots for future trans-species viral spillover and the emergence of new pandemic coronaviruses.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; coronavirus; mink; mink farm; pandemic; spill-over; zoonosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alphacoronavirus / classification
  • Alphacoronavirus / genetics
  • Alphacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic / virology
  • Animals, Wild / virology
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / veterinary*
  • Cats
  • Disease Hotspot
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mephitidae / virology
  • Mice
  • Mink / virology
  • Raccoons / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / classification
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*
  • Utah / epidemiology