By Toby Sterling
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Mink with the coronavirus have infected two people in the Netherlands in what are probably the first such cases of transmission during the epidemic, government and health authorities said on Monday.
Mink carrying the virus were found on four of the 155 farms in the country where they are bred for their fur, Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten said in a letter to parliament that detailed the two cases.
She said the risk of such animal-to-human transmission of the virus outside the farms was "negligible."
On three of the four infected farms, the source of infection has been shown to be a sick human, while the fourth is still under investigation, the minister said.
The Netherlands' Institute for Health's (RIVM) director Jaap van Dissel said that, while a few cats and other animals had been infected with COVID-19 by humans, the Dutch mink-to-human transmissions were practically unique.
"This is the first time we've found, at least we've shown that it's likely, that in two cases the infection has gone from animal to human," he said in testimony to parliament on Monday.
"Of course the original source of infection in China was also very likely animals."
A law banning mink farming in the Netherlands was passed in 2013, and the remaining farms are due to cease operations in 2023.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Toby Chopra and John Stonestreet)