Through postmortem examinations, veterinary scientists at UC Davis believe that the deaths of various animals in Redding, including skunks, are being caused by canine distemper virus.
Eighty-three skunks, 13 foxes and 12 raccoons have died of unknown causes in Redding since February.
Examinations of some of the deceased animals led researchers to discover the virus.
“Necropsies and additional tests performed by Dr. Linda Munson confirmed that distemper was present within tissues of several of the animals that died during the epizootic,” said Mourad Gabriel, a comparative pathology graduate student.
Canine distemper is a serious viral and potentially fatal disease that affects the nervous and respiratory systems.
“[Canine distemper] is a disease of dogs and related animals caused by the canine distemper virus,” said Janet Foley, a UC Davis veterinary professor. “Typically animals can develop vomiting and diarrhea, respiratory disease, including pneumonia, or central nervous diseases like seizures.”
Canine distemper is caused by a single stranded RNA virus. The virus will latch onto the host and use the host’s cells in order to make more copies of itself.
The disease can be spread through direct contact with an infected animal.
According to Gabriel, the transmission of distemper is often through aerosol droplets or contact of oral, ocular, respiratory or other bodily fluids by a susceptible animal.
This means that the virus can be shed through an animal’s feces or respiratory secretions, that is, the bodily fluids suspended in the atmosphere.
“Despite the prefix, CDV affects many wild, terrestrial carnivores both canids and non-canids,” Gabriel said.
Animals that are most susceptible to the disease tend to be juveniles within a species, such as puppies. Distemper is not a threat to humans.
The disease is distributed worldwide, and according to a 2008 publication from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari in Italy the incidence of distemper-related disease in canine populations throughout the world seems to have increased in the past decades, and several episodes of distemper in vaccinated animals have been reported.
While there is no cure for distemper, treatment is available through supportive care which includes fluids and antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.
“The best preventative measure for CDV among domestic carnivores is by vaccinations,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel, Foley, as well as veterinary pathology professor Linda Munson, who has been conducting the post-mortem exams, are working collaboratively with the California Department of Fish and Game.
More testing and autopsies will take place as animals continue to die off due to this epidemic.
A number of vaccinations exist against distemper and the type used should be approved for the type of animal that is being immunized.
“Vaccinate and keep dogs away from infected wildlife,” said Foley, on how pet owner’s can keep their pets from being infected by the disease.
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