The carcasses of infected minks may
have triggered a deadly viral outbreak that has killed thousands of
seals in northern Europe, a Swedish scientist said Friday.
The phocine distemper virus, which wiped out half the region's
seal population 14 years ago, reappeared this spring in Denmark and
now has been confirmed in Sweden, Norway, Germany and the
Scientists have not determined the cause of the latest outbreak,
but Swedish marine biologist Martin Larsvik said the disease may
have spread from minks that were immune to the virus.
"Minks live in the same environment," Larsvik said. "They
live on (the Danish island) Anholt, where the mass death started.
If a dead mink is in the water, then seals are likely to come up
and poke it and play with it."
Larsvik said more than 2,500 seal carcasses have washed up on
beaches in Sweden. The epidemic likely will kill about half of the
19,000 seals in Sweden and Denmark, he said.
"We've established contact with mink hunters. We're going to
test the animals so we can analyze the occurrence of phocine
distemper virus," he said.
The virus, which does not affect humans, spreads through direct
contact with body fluids or by scratching, clawing or biting. It
usually causes severely matted eyes, runny noses and pneumonia.