A new coronavirus strain that infected mink during the second wave of the pandemic in November has also spread to humans in Western Macedonia, scientists say.
According to scientists from the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens (IIBEAA), the mutated strain is responsible for the largest spread of the pandemic in Northern Greece.
Mutant strains of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus were detected in 120 random tests of infected residents of Kozani, Grevena and Kastoria.
These are the same variants of the coronavirus that infected the mink in the area during the second wave of the pandemic and killed thousands of animals.
Virus passes from humans to minks — and back
Dr. Dimitris Thanos, President of the Scientific Council of IIBEAA, spoke to iatropedia.gr saying that the virus passed from humans to small animals, mutated, and then returned and infected humans.
“We analyzed coronaviruses that have been isolated from mink. We discovered that the same mutations that exist in humans also exist in mink. Apparently, the animals were initially infected by humans,” the scientist said.
“They (the mink) infected the people who take care of them,” Dr. Thanos said.
“A detailed analysis of the spread of the virus in the area has not been made yet. That is, we have sequencing of the genome only in 120 people in whom we identified these mutations,” the scientist said.
The “infection cycle” of New Coronavirus Strain
Last November, coronavirus strains were identified in 22 minks living on farms in the Kozani region. The virus was then shown to have been transmitted to animals from humans.
“In all probability,” Dr. Thanos noted, “they got ill because of the large spread in the area and because they were exposed to the virus more than other animals.”
“It is probably because the cages are very to each other and the virus is transmitted in a flash. Like people when they are ‘packed’ on the buses,” he noted.
“Mutated strains are transmitted from person to person. And that is why we are now checking the community in Western Macedonia, that is, another 150-200 samples in Kastoria, Grevena and Kozani,” the scientist said.
Minks are ‘incubators’ of mutations
According to the scientist, minks are considered “incubators” of mutations. “The processes that take place in the body of a mink create new variants,” he explained.
“A mink works as a reservoir, as a repository of the virus. As the virus multiplies in them, new mutations accumulate and they are transmitted to humans,” he noted.
Mutations can lead to new potentiated strains, which are dangerous and may even cancel the action of vaccines, experts say.
The scientist noted that the current sample is too small and a larger number of people need to be tested in order to say that minks are truly responsible for the wider spread of Covid-19 in Northern Greece.
“This is an assumption we have made about Western Macedonia, but in order to answer this we will have to make many more genome sequences in the region,” Dr. Thanos said.