DEADLY VIRUS - 31st May 2002

A deadly virus that kills seals is spreading fast around the Baltic Sea and could claim many more victims among the mammals in the fragile environment.

Up to 250 dead seals have been found in Denmark, most of them on the island of Anholt north of the main Danish island Sealand.

The seal population in waters around the Danish and Swedish coasts totals approximately 15,000 animals, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature environment protection organization.

In 1988, the seal plague caused by a virus called PDV (phocine distemper virus), which erodes the seals' immune system and leads to pneumonia wiped out more than half of the seal population in Western Europe.

Now another epidemic may be on its way as between 10 and 15 seals have been found dead on Sweden's southwest coast in the past two days.

Pathologist Anders Bergman from the Swedish Museum of Natural History who performed post-mortem on the seal said he is sure it is the same disease striking again: "The only thing that I can say is that our findings are identical to what we saw in 1988."But more research is needed to confirm it."

"We will send the samples further for virology expertise to get the final confirmation."

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