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Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Seal virus spreads to UK shores
A fatal virus that has killed seals throughout northern Europe has returned to UK waters, wildlife experts say.

Tests on five seals found off the coast of Lincolnshire and East Anglia confirmed they died from phocine distemper virus (PDV).


It is a vicious virus

Ian Robinson, RSPCA
The animals - two adults and three pups - were found two weeks ago and taken to the Norfolk Wildlife Hospital.

The disease was last seen in Europe in 1988, when some 18,000 seals were wiped out.

"We're in a similar situation to 1988 when 50-60 % of common seals in Europe died," Paul Jepson, of the UK Institute of Zoology, said on Wednesday.

"It could be a major threat to their long-term viability."

Rapid spread

The virus is predicted to spread around England's east coast and then on to Scotland, and the Irish Sea.

It returned to Denmark in May 2002, and has so far killed 2,000 seals in Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Greay seal pup
Some 18,000 seals died from PDV in 1988
Holland and northern France have also been affected.

Since then, wildlife experts have warned it was only a matter of time before the virus hit British shores.

Initial results of tests carried out on seals found at the end of July proved negative.

However wildlife charity, the RSPCA, which runs the wildlife hospital, said the latest results were positive.

"It's early days and we hope the virus is not as disastrous as last time," said veterinary manager Ian Robinson.

"However, it is a vicious virus. There is no treatment for it and no prevention for animals in the wild."

The highly infectious virus is similar to dog distemper and cannot be treated.

It attacks the seals' immune system and leaves them open to infection.

Harbour seals can travel hundreds of miles in days, causing the virus to spread quickly.

The virus is not harmful to humans.


click here to go to Lincolnshire

Click here to go to Norfolk
See also:

27 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
12 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
10 May 01 | Science/Nature
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