Guidance on SARs-CoV-2 (Covid 19)
Rescue manager, Michelle Brunton, recently attended an online stakeholder meeting with government officials and organisations involved in mustelid rescue to form part of a steering group for consultation about the establishment of a Great Britain register of ferrets and captive wild Mustelinae.
Click the paperclip to download and read minutes from the meeting.
Before reading any further please note that there are no plans for the register to, in any way, result in statutory testing of ferrets, ferret culls or any other detrimental action towards your ferrets.
The register is similar to the poultry register that was introduced following the avian flu outbreak and to ensure that ferret and other captive Mustelinae keepers are provided with up to date disease information and to facilitate statutory testing if required, aimed at preventing spread of SARs-CoV-2 between ferrets and captive other mustelid species.
YOU ARE A GREATER RISK TO YOUR FERRET THAN THEY ARE TO YOU!
Please do not panic or feel that you need to rehome your ferrets.
We have been provided with the following information to disseminate while we wait for further updates:
You may be aware the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) previously published information on. Preventative Measures regarding SARs-CoV-2 and Ferrets in the UK http://apha.defra.gov.uk/.../guidance-sars-cov-2-ferrets.pdf
In Denmark, in Autumn 2020, following infection passing from humans to farmed mink, a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans) developed in the mink and passed back to humans. This variant was less readily killed by human SARS-CoV-2 antibodies than other variants, which raised concerns that if one of these variants spread easily amongst people, it could impact on the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions, e.g. vaccination.
It has therefore been necessary to take further measures to protect public health. Whilst mink farming is banned in the UK, other Mustelinae*, such as ferrets, are now known to be highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. Research has demonstrated that new variants can arise in ferrets and they can spread infection within their own species. There is therefore concern that ferrets and other Mustelinae kept in GB could act as a reservoir of new variants with the potential to infect humans.
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Presentation by Carmen Marco
Legislation has now come into force in Scotland, England and Wales to make SARS-CoV-2 reportable in all mammals (except man) and so positive test results must now be reported by your vet, or private laboratory, to APHA.
Your vet can provide advice on when testing is appropriate and further information can be found here: SARS-CoV-2 in Animals – Case Definition, Testing and International Reporting Obligations (defra.gov.uk)
Register of ferrets and other captive Mustelinae
In order to ensure that ferret and other captive Mustelinae keepers are provided with up to date disease information, and to facilitate statutory testing if required, we are looking to create a register of ferrets and other captive Mustelinae. You may already be familiar with the GB Poultry Register and it is proposed the ferret register will operate in a similar way. The register will cover all kept animals classed as Mustelinae* including ferrets, polecats and their hybrids, and wild Mustelinae kept in captivity. Further references in this letter to ferrets include all captive Mustelinae.
We would like to stress that whilst mink in Denmark were subject to culling, this is not the intended purpose of the GB ferret register.
As this is a public and animal health measure, it is important to be able to implement the register as quickly as possible. The register will therefore be implemented initially on a voluntary basis in GB, likely around 1st May, before legislation is introduced by Scottish Government, Defra and Welsh Government, making registration compulsory.
The information that may be requested in the voluntary register would be minimal and is likely to include: name and address of ferret owner; the species kept; and the purpose for which the animals are kept (e.g. as pets, for commercial breeding activities, or as working animals, etc.) The register will not be publicly accessible.
Following feedback from the stakeholder meeting, the minimum number of ferrets which would trigger compulsory registration, and categories of purpose, are under consideration. We will publish further information to advise when the register opens and what ferret keepers must do to register.
Advice for Ferret Keepers
COVID-19 is driven by human to human transmission, and it is rare for an animal to contract coronavirus. Despite this, taking preventive measures to address the potential for transmission from ferrets to humans is important. Should you have any concerns regarding the health of your animals, whether you keep them commercially or as pets, you should contact your vet.
*Mustelinae includes animals such as ferrets, polecats, mink, weasels, stoats, ermine, martens and wolverines.
Wash your hands before and after any contact with your ferret(s), their food and bedding
The main source of SARS-CoV-2 for ferrets is transmission from people, if they are infected. This would be a very rare event (only one case reported so far)
As ferrets are closely related to mink, there is the possibility that ferrets may potentially be able to pass SARS-CoV-2 back to uninfected people, and ferret owners need to be aware of this potential. However, the first and main important step is to minimise the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from people to ferrets
If you have (or think you have) COVID-19 you should minimise contact with your ferrets as much as possible.
Disease in ferrets should usually be mild, but if your ferret falls ill, you should seek veterinary advice. Your vet can discuss with you whether testing would be recommended. • You should isolate your ferret for 3 weeks (21 days), if you or somebody else in contact with them are self-isolating; if you have brought ferrets from a country not in the corridor list; or your ferrets has had a positive test to SARS-CoV-2. In the latest case, those should be kept separated from other animals while infected, and use of biosecurity measures is strongly advised (i.e. use of PPE, use of disinfectant gels)
Current information for animal owners:
Scotland: Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for animal owners - gov.scot ()
England: Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for people in England with animals - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Disease Control Branch | Animal Health and Welfare Division | Directorate for Agriculture and Rural Economy