Phocine distemper virus (PDV) caused thousands of deaths among harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) from the North Sea in 1988 and 2002. To examine the effects of different factors on the pathology of phocine distemper, we performed necropsies and laboratory analyses on 369 harbor seals that stranded along the Dutch coast during the 2002 PDV epidemic. Diagnostic tests for morbillivirus infection indicated a differential temporal presence of morbillivirus in lung and brain. Seals of 3 years or older were significantly more often IgG positive than younger seals. The most frequent lesions in PDV cases were bronchopneumonia, broncho-interstitial pneumonia, and interstitial emphysema. Extra- thoracic emphysema was rare in >1-year-olds compared with older seals, even though severe pneumonia was more common. PDV cases generally had empty stomachs and less blubber than by-caught seals from before the epidemic. In PDV cases involving older animals, lung, kidney, and adrenal weights were significantly increased. Bordetella bronchiseptica was isolated from lungs in two thirds of the PDV cases examined. Our results indicate that brain should be included among the tissues tested for PDV by RT- PCR; that either phocine distemper has a longer duration in older seals or that there are age-related differences in immunity and organ development; that dehydration could play a role in the course and outcome of phocine distemper; and that bacterial coinfections in lungs are more frequent in PDV cases than gross lesions suggest. These results illustrate how quantitative analysis of pathology data from such epidemics can improve understanding of the causative disease.

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Keywords Age-related lesions, Coinfections, Emphysema, Harbor seals (phoca vitulina), Pathology, Phocine distemper virus; pneumonia
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Rijks, J.M., Read, F.L., van de Bildt, M.W.G., van Bolhuis, H.G., Martina, B.E.E., Wagenaar, J.A., … Kuiken, T.. (2008). Quantitative analysis of the 2002 phocine distemper epidemic in the Netherlands. Veterinary Pathology, 45(4), 516–530. doi:10.1354/vp.45-4-516