The 2000 canine distemper epidemic in Caspian seals (Phoca caspica): Pathology and analysis of contributory factors

T Kuiken, S Kennedy, T Barrett, M W G Van de Bildt, F H Borgsteede, S D Brew, G A Codd, C Duck, R Deaville, T Eybatov, M A Forsyth, G Foster, P D Jepson, A Kydyrmanov, I Mitrofanov, C J Ward, S Wilson, A D M E Osterhaus

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79 Citations (Scopus)


More than 10,000 Caspian seals (Phoca caspica) were reported dead in the Caspian Sea during spring and summer 2000. We performed necropsies and extensive laboratory analyses on 18 seals, as well as examination of the pattern of strandings and variation in weather in recent years, to identify the cause of mortality and potential contributory factors. The monthly stranding rate In 2000 was up to 2.8 times the historic mean. It was preceded by an unusually mild winter, as observed before in mass mortality events of pinnipeds. The primary diagnosis in I I of 13 seals was canine distemper, characterized by broncho-interstitial pneumonia, lymphocytic necrosis and depletion in lymphoid organs., and the presence of typical intracytoplasmic inclusion bodies in multiple epithelia. Canine distemper virus infection was confirmed by phylogenetic analysis of reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction products. Organochlorine and zinc concentrations in tissues of seals with canine distemper were comparable to those of Caspian seals in previous years. Concurrent bacterial infections that may have contributed to the mortality of the seals included Bordetella bronchiseptica (4/8 seals), Streptococcus phocae (3/8), Salmonella dublin (1/8), and S. choleraesuis (1/8). A newly identified bacterium, Corynebacterium caspium, was associated with balanoposthitis in one seal. Several infectious and parasitic organisms, including poxvirus, Atopobacter phocae, Eimeria- and Sarcocystis-like organisms, and Halarachne sp. were identified in Caspian seals for the first time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-338
Number of pages18
JournalVeterinary Pathology
Publication statusPublished - May 2006


  • bacteriology
  • communicable diseases, emerging
  • distemper virus, canine
  • immunohistochemistry
  • pathology
  • seals
  • toxicology
  • virology
  • SP NOV.


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