Pseudorabies in the Florida Panther

Typical wild hog found in Florida

Pseudorabies in the Florida Panther

Pseudorabies (also known as Aujesky’s disease) is caused by a herpes virus (unrelated to rabies virus) and can affect a variety of mammals. In Florida, wild hogs are the most common hosts for pseudorabies.  Clinical signs of infection in domestic hogs can include reproductive and fetal abnormalities, fever, respiratory and neurologic disease and death. About 35 percent of wild hogs in Florida carry the virus but that can rise to 50 percent or higher in some areas.

Wild hogs typically do not show symptoms of the infection but they can infect predators that eat them. Reports of the disease in wildlife are rare but cases have been documented in raccoons, bears, Iberian lynx (an endangered cat in Spain) and Florida panthers. Panthers eat wild hogs, and their exposure to this disease is possible if the prey is infected and shedding live virus. Pseudorabies in panthers is typically fatal, with the disease progression likely to be very rapid and animals may die within 48 hours of the onset of clinical signs.

Surveillance and management of pseudorabies in panthers

Pseudorabies is likely much more significant in Florida panthers than previously thought. New diagnostic techniques are allowing researchers to test for the disease in panthers whose deaths were undiagnosed. Pseudorabies virus is now known to have been the cause of death in at least eight Florida panthers and may have been responsible for many more. Pseudorabies is currently believed to be the third leading cause of death among Florida panthers, following intraspecific aggression and vehicle collision. To date, no evidence of prior exposure and subsequent recovery from this infection has been documented in live panthers. These results are consistent with a rapid and fatal disease course where the infected animal dies. Currently, there is no commercially available vaccine to prevent pseudorabies in panthers. Research into a safe and effective vaccine for panthers is needed, and vaccination may play a role in the future management of pseudorabies in panthers.

 



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