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I WRITE to bring to colleagues' attention an outbreak of canine distemper in ferrets in the UK. There have been confirmed cases in Wolverhampton, Dudley, Halesowen, Milton Keynes, Alsager (Cheshire) and Derby. These have involved approximately 300 ferrets. Further suspected cases have occurred in Bradford, Leeds, Blackpool and Maldon (Essex). I have been working with the National Ferret Welfare Society to track the spread of the outbreak.
The first cases are thought to have appeared in late September/early October, 2011. A number of the ferrets tested positive on PCR for distemper. Tissues taken postmortem from two of the ferrets were examined histologically by Janet Patterson-Kane at Glasgow university veterinary school. She concluded that: ‘The diagnosis of bronchointerstitial pneumonia and lymphoid depletion with prominent intracytoplasmic viral inclusion bodies in the lung and urinary bladder epithelium are consistent with the diagnosis of canine distemper virus infection. The lung lesions are relatively severe.’
Many of the cases are reported to have started with a marked skin rash, ocular discharge and nasal crusting. Mortality was high among affected ferrets.
With no licensed vaccine available in the UK, many ferrets have not been vaccinated against distemper in recent years. Inquiries to the three UK manufacturers that market the six combined distemper vaccines licensed for canine use in the UK gave a variety of recommendations for off-label use.
There are anecdotal reports that some of the ferrets that have died in this outbreak had received a part-dose of canine distemper vaccine.