Occupational and environmental exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in and around infected mink farms

Myrna M.T. De Rooij*, Renate W. Hakze-van der Honing, Marcel M. Hulst, Frank Harders, Marc Engelsma, Wouter Van De Hoef, Kees Meliefste, Sigrid Nieuwenweg, Bas B. Oude Munnink, Isabella Van Schothorst, Reina S. Sikkema, Arco N. Van Der Spek, Marcel Spierenburg, Jack Spithoven, Ruth Bouwstra, Robert Jan Molenaar, Marion Koopmans, Arjan Stegeman, Wim H.M. Van Der Poel, Lidwien A.M. Smit

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Objective: Unprecedented SARS-CoV-2 infections in farmed minks raised immediate concerns regarding transmission to humans and initiated intensive environmental investigations to assess occupational and environmental exposure. Methods: Air sampling was performed at infected Dutch mink farms, at farm premises and at nearby residential sites. A range of other environmental samples were collected from minks' housing units, including bedding materials. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was analysed in all samples by quantitative PCR. Results: Inside the farms, considerable levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA were found in airborne dust, especially in personal inhalable dust samples (approximately 1000-10 000 copies/m3). Most of the settling dust samples tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA (82%, 75 of 92). SARS-CoV-2 RNA was not detected in outdoor air samples, except for those collected near the entrance of the most recently infected farm. Many samples of minks' housing units and surfaces contained SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Conclusions: Infected mink farms can be highly contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 RNA. This warns of occupational exposure, which was substantiated by considerable SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in personal air samples. Dispersion of SARS-CoV-2 to outdoor air was found to be limited and SARS-CoV-2 RNA was not detected in air samples collected beyond farm premises, implying a negligible risk of environmental exposure to nearby communities. Our occupational and environmental risk assessment is in line with whole genome sequencing analyses showing mink-to-human transmission among farm workers, but no indications of direct zoonotic transmission events to nearby communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)893-899
JournalOccupational and Environmental Medicine
Volume78
Issue number12
Early online date30 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • air pollution
  • COVID-19
  • environment
  • farmers
  • viruses

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