Phocine distemper virus, seals - UK (02)

[1]
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002
From: ProMED-mail promed@promedmail.org
Source: BBC News, 14 Aug 2002 [edited]

Seal virus fears grow
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A virus that killed thousands of seals in the 1980s could return to Scottish waters, experts have warned. The warning came after 5 seals washed up off the east coast of England were found to have died from the phocine distemper virus (PDV).

The last outbreak of PDV in 1988 killed an estimated 13,000 [seals] in Scotland, as well as thousands more in other parts of Britain and northern Europe. Mark Steward, curator of marine mammals at the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary in Oban, Argyll and Bute, said a similar number could die this year. The spread of the virus [in northern Europe] has followed a similar pattern to the 1988 outbreak, which slashed the seal population by up to 60 percent in some waters.

Mr Steward said: "I think everyone needs to brace themselves for the fact that it will definitely arrive in Scotland. "The spread from the Baltic to the east coast via the Waddenzee in Holland has followed exactly the same time scale as last time. Last time it arrived in the UK in July and dead seals were being washed up in Orkney at the beginning of August, so we would expect PDV to spread to Scotland within the next month."

He added that the erratic progress of the disease in Scotland -- the east and west coasts were struck almost simultaneously -- made it hard to predict how it would develop this year. The governments in Scotland and the UK have already invested GBP 250,000 [USD 384,300]in a project to learn more about the virus, which was unknown at the time of the 1988 outbreak.

It took 12 years for the seal population to return to its pre-1988 figures, but Scotland's seals were less badly hit than those in other parts of Europe, whose immune systems had been damaged by organo-chlorine pollution.

Mr Steward said the disease posed no health risk to humans, but warned people to stay away from dead or sick seals. The illness is related to canine distemper, meaning dogs can act as carriers and unwittingly pass it on to healthy seals, although they will not be infected themselves.

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[2]

Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002
From: ProMED-mail promed@promedmail.org
Source: BBC News, 14 Aug 2002 [edited]

Seal colony expected to escape virus
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Volunteers at a marine sanctuary have expressed hope that a killer virus will not hit a grey seal community in west Wales.

Terry Leadbetter, who runs Welsh Marine Life Rescue in Milford Haven, hopes the colony of grey seals living in waters off Pembrokeshire will be spared from the disease, which is spreading across northern Europe.

The illness -- caused by the phocine distemper virus (PDV) -- was confirmed to have reached the UK's shores on Wed 14 Aug 2002, after tests on 5 seals in southeast England [were completed]. It has already claimed the lives of 2000 seals in Denmark, Sweden and Norway since it was first spotted in May.

The west Wales coast is home to one of the largest populations of grey seals in Europe. "During the last outbreak, the breed of seals most affected was the common seal," said Mr Leadbetter. "Out of 18 000 seals which died as a result of the virus in 1988, only 350 were grey seals. "The common seal is much more susceptible to the disease than the grey seal. We are mildly optimistic that the distemper virus won't affect the seals in the waters around Pembrokeshire because no common seals live here. Only grey seals inhabit the waters in this area. So far, out of the 2000 seals which have died from the virus this year, we are not aware of any evidence to say that any grey seals have been infected," he added.

The virus, which is not harmful to humans, causes symptoms of lethargy and runny eyes and nose in seals who contract it. It is a highly contagious disease -- similar to dog distemper -- and attacks the immune system of the animal, usually leading to death by pneumonia.

"Naturally we are very concerned and will be monitoring the situation, particularly with the pupping season approaching. "But we are remaining hopeful," said Mr Leadbetter.

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