New outbreak of distemper among seals (Europe)

Reply Sat 23 Jun, 2007 02:54 pm
Danish authority confirms new outbreak of distemper among seals

The Associated Press
Published: June 23, 2007

STOCKHOLM, Sweden: Danish authorities on Saturday confirmed an outbreak of distemper among its seal pup population and warned thousands of seals could die if the disease spreads from Danish waters into other Northern European countries.

Since Tuesday at least 41 harbor seal pups have been found dead on the small island of Anholt, midway between Denmark and Sweden. The agency said it normally finds around 30 dead seals a year.

"We can confirm that this is distemper among seals," said Henrik Lykke Soerensen, spokesman at The Danish Forest and Nature Agency.

"There is therefore reason to fear that we will see a large number of dead seals on Danish beaches in coming months." The agency said it would kill dying seals found on the shores of the island to try to prevent the spread of the infectious disease, which does not affect humans.

Lykke Soerensen said it was still unclear which strain of virus authorities were dealing with, but that the agency was expecting to identify it by early next week.

The seal population in Denmark has been hit by the disease twice before. In 2002, it killed nearly half the harbor seal population along the coasts of Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Britain and Ireland. Another outbreak, in 1988, wiped out nearly 60 percent of northern Europe's harbor seal population.

The cause of both outbreaks remains unknown.

The dead animals were pups born this year or in 2006. Older animals become immune to the virus, which is spread by direct contact with body fluids or by scratching, clawing or biting. It causes respiratory problems, fever and sometimes disorientation, while leaving the animal's immune system weakened and susceptible to other diseases, such as pneumonia.

Anholt is a sanctuary for some of the estimated 12,000 harbor seals, also known as common seals, that live in Kattegat, the Baltic Sea waterway between the two Scandinavian countries.


Death seals on Anholt (ANP Photo | © Trouw)
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Reply Sat 23 Jun, 2007 03:46 pm
As far as I can tell from a bit of online searching, seals seem to be affected by phocine distemper, which is different but immunologically indistinct from canine distemper. In at least one trial, seals vaccinated with inactivated canine distemper vaccine withstood infection by the challenge dose of phocine distemper virus. The bad news is that I must assume that phocine distemper is therefore clinically similar to canine distemper, which happens to be a really nasty pantropic virus. Pantropic means that it affects all tissue types, rather than having a prediliction for a particular type of tissue. Canine distemper routinely infects the respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems, and is capable of affecting just about any other tissue in the body.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sat 23 Jun, 2007 11:08 pm
Well, the last times they've got it, about haf of the seal population (or even more) died.
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