Coronavirus could potentially leap to other animals, such as rats, mice, ferrets and voles, as well as mink, an expert has warned.
The virus could then “come back in future years into the human population”, said Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust.
His comments came amid new warnings about the virus’s evolution in mink.
More than 200 people have been infected with mink-related coronavirus in Denmark, leading to a cull of millions of animals.
Danish authorities worry that a mutated form of coronavirus found in farmed mink might hamper the effectiveness of future vaccines.
The government has ordered a mass cull of up to 17 million animals and a four-week lockdown for people living in the northwest of the country. There has been an outcry, with arguments over the legality of the cull.
Authorities in Denmark are particularly concerned about one mink-related type of the virus found in 12 people.
Its mutations involve a key part of the virus involved in immunity, the spike protein, which is the target of vaccines being developed.
The World Health Organization has said the reports are concerning, but further studies are needed to understand the implications for treatments and vaccines.
The worry about a vaccine is hypothetical so far, with further laboratory investigations being carried out.