Deadly seal virus could be spreading faster from melting Arctic ice

The highly infectious phocine distemper virus - that isn't considered to affect people - strikes the nervous and respiratory systems of several marine mammals.

Arctic sea ice has declined at an average rate of 12.8 per cent each decade between 1979 and 2018, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The scientists checked marine mammals for exposure to the virus from 2001 to 2016 - with sampled mammals including ice-associated seals, northern fur seals, Steller sea lions and norther sea otters.

The data, published in a new study in the journal Scientific Reports, finds that the loss of Arctic sea ice allowed otters and other mammals to move west and spread the virus.

But harp seals appear to be better able to survive the distemper distemper, Dr. Goldstein said, and can serve as its reservoir, the ecological niche in which the infection persists. "It was the lowest ice year on record at the time, and at the same time, in August and September, there was a really large outbreak".

Tissue lesions from a harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) with phocine distemper virus infection.

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Müller G, Wohlsein P, Beineke A, Haas L, Greiser-Wilke I, et al.

The team used satellite images to assess the presence of open water routes through the Arctic Ocean due to melting sea ice over the same period to allow infection relatively common in parts of the Atlantic to reach the Pacific. The study concluded that melting sea ice brought on by the Earth's warming climate created a way for the virus to move into a new region and infect a new population of sea life.

That includes new channels opening up along northern Russian Federation and Canada through which animals - and disease - can pass.

The research adds to the growing study that global warming has some unexpected impacts on human and animal health, like rising outbreaks of noxious blooms that could sicken marine creatures and widening the selection of ticks that carry potentially catastrophic diseases. Phocine distemper virus Phocine distemper virus, (PDV) is closely related to the canine distemper virus, which veterinarians vaccinate for. And while there is no evidence to suggest that PDV is transmittable to humans, the virus belongs to the same family as the measles. Hundreds of seals and gray seals They were found dead in 2018 along the New England coast, from MA to ME, due to infections with distemper and flu. Symptoms of the disease - which is pathogenic for animals, particularly seals and other pinnipeds - include fever, labored breathing, discharge from the nose and eyes and eventually death. Pneumonia develops, and mortality can be high in previously unexposed animals.

Goldstein, however, said there was a little possibility of PDV-positive mammals found along eastern Russian Federation traveling to tropical waters and spreading the virus to Southeast Asian region as Pinnipeds, a category of animals that includes seals and walruses, prefer cooler seas. "When we see these changes happening in animals, we can't ignore them, because the impacts on people and the planet are not far behind", said Elizabeth VanWormer, the study's lead author, as NBC News reported. "This shows just how interconnected these items are the health of individuals, animals and the planet".

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