Comparison of the 1988 and 2002 phocine distemper epizootics British harbour seal Phoca vitulina populations

Mike Lonergan (Lead / Corresponding author), Ailsa Hall, Hal Thompson, Paul M. Thompson, Paddy Pomeroy, John Harwood

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9 Citations (Scopus)


In 1988 and 2002 dramatic and well-documented phocine distemper epizootics occurred in Europe. While their progression and impact were remarkably similar and consistent over much of Europe, mortality in the UK varied greatly between and within the 2 epizootics. We use antibody levels in blood samples to show that 51% (Bayesian 95% CI: 41 to 61%) of the individuals alive in 5 UK harbour seal populations at the end of the 1988 epizootic had been exposed to the virus, and that the equivalent figure after the 2002 outbreak was 22% (95% CI: 16 to 30%). Antibody prevalence was significantly higher in females than males after the 2002 epizootic. Combining these estimates with information on reductions in the numbers of animals observed hauled out during surveys of the Wash, Moray Firth, and Orkney populations and a simple epidemiological model, suggests that the differences between the 2 epizootics were primarily due to a 27% (95% CI: 8 to 43%) fall in R0, the basic reproductive rate of the virus. The large geographic variation in population effects observed within the UK during each epizootic appears to have been mainly due to differences in case mortality, with R0 being remarkably similar in all the populations investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-188
Number of pages6
JournalDiseases of Aquatic Organisms
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2010


  • Epidemic
  • Epidemiology
  • Mathematical model
  • Pinniped


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