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Neurological signs in juvenile harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) with fatal phocine distemper
  1. J. D. W. Philippa, DVM1,
  2. M. W. G. van de Bildt, MSc1,
  3. T. Kuiken, DVM, PhD, DipACVP1,
  4. P. ’t Hart, PhD2 and
  5. A. D. M. E. Osterhaus, DVM, PhD1
  1. 1 Department of Virology, Erasmus MC, PO Box 2040, 3000 CA Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2 Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre, Hoofdstraat 94a, 9968 AG Pieterburen, The Netherlands Dr Philippa, Mr van de Bildt and Professor Osterhaus are also at the Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre, Pieterburen, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Professor Osterhaus, e-mail: a.osterhaus{at}


In 2002, the northern European harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) population experienced an epidemic of phocine distemper virus (PDV) in which 22,000 seals died. Clinical signs were recorded in 20 harbour seal pups admitted to the Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre with clinical disease, and they were diagnosed PDV infection-positive by RT-PCR postmortem. All 20 had respiratory signs, 14 had conjunctivitis and 10 had neurological signs. Severe neurological signs were one of the criteria for euthanasia during the epidemic, and many pups that were euthanased were not included in this study owing to the lack of complete datasets. Neurological signs were therefore among the most prevalent signs of fatal PDV infection in harbour seal pups. The lymphoid depletion reported in dead seals during the epidemic was not reflected in the total mononuclear leucocyte count of the seal pups, but they had an absolute granulocytosis, thrombocytosis, anaemia, and high total white blood cell counts. When first examined, 11 of the pups had a positive serum IgG titre, and four had a positive serum IgM titre. High levels of PDV-specific serum IgG antibodies were not correlated with an absence of clinical signs or longer survival.

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