Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)TiHo eLib

Screening for influenza and morbillivirus in seals and porpoises in the Baltic and North Sea

Historically, the seals and harbour porpoises of the Baltic Sea and North Sea have been subjected to hunting, chemical pollutants and repeated mass mortalities, leading to significant population fluctuations. Despite the conservation implications and the zoonotic potential associated with viral disease outbreaks in wildlife, limited information is available on the circulation of viral pathogens in Baltic Sea seals and harbour porpoises. Here, we investigated the presence of the influenza A virus (IAV), the phocine distemper virus (PDV) and the cetacean morbillivirus (CeMV) in tracheal swabs and lung tissue samples from 99 harbour seals, 126 grey seals, 73 ringed seals and 78 harbour porpoises collected in the Baltic Sea and North Sea between 2002–2019. Despite screening 376 marine mammals collected over nearly two decades, we only detected one case of PDV and two cases of IAV linked to the documented viral outbreaks in seals in 2002 and 2014, respectively. Although we find no evidence of PDV and IAV during intermediate years, reports of isolated cases of PDV in North Sea harbour seals and IAV (H5N8) in Baltic and North Sea grey seals suggest introductions of those pathogens within the sampling period. Thus, to aid future monitoring efforts we highlight the need for a standardized and continuous sample collection of swabs, tissue and blood samples across Baltic Sea countries.

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