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  • Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Institute of Virology (NIV) have confirmed the presence of the Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) in at least five of 24 samples that were tested from the GIR forest.

About:

  • The 24 samples were tested for CDV and Paramyxoviridiae, and five samples were found to be positive for CDV, the sequence was compared to available CDV sequences and it was found to be related to East African strains.
  • These samples were collected between September 19 and 24 and included blood in the EDTA, ocular, nasal, rectal swabs, and visceral organs in viral transport medium.
  • Lions contracted a contagious disease after eating contaminated food.
  • Considering the threat posed to the endangered species, the research body has recommended CDV vaccine shots for all the lions in Gir as an immediate protective measure.
  • Vaccination of lions with CDV should be taken up on an urgent basis as existing CDV vaccine could work as a protective intervention for lions during the current viral outbreak. As the vaccine has proved effective in other countries and it offers protection against CDV for one year.
  • As such for the first time a complete genome of CDV was recovered by NIV. The sequence was compared to available CDV sequences and it was found to be related to the East African strains.
  • The report says it is critical to place the lions in two or three different sanctuaries to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like CDV and protect them from extinction.

Background:

  • Twenty-three lions have died in Gir forest since September 12, prompting the government to launch massive operations to ensure that the infection does not spread to other big cats in their only abode in Asia. The condition of three of over 36 lions, currently under observation of the forest department in Gujarat, is critical. The state government has sought national as well as international help in saving the lions.
  • Canine distemper virus is known mainly to cause a severe infection in dogs that could possibly turn fatal. Dogs are considered the primary source of infection and virus transmission. However, CDV may also affect wild carnivores such as wolves, foxes, raccoons, red pandas, ferrets, hyenas, tigers, and lions.
  • In canines, distemper affects several body systems, including the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts and the spinal cord and brain, with common symptoms that include high fever, eye inflammation and eye/nose discharge, laboured breathing and coughing, vomiting and diarrhoea, loss of appetite and lethargy, and hardening of nose and footpads.
  • The viral infection can be accompanied by secondary bacterial infections and can present eventual serious neurological symptoms.
  • The prevalence of this virus and its diversity in wildlife of India is not adequately studied. A few reports are available regarding the detection of CDV in captive wild carnivores, including tigers and red pandas.
  • In 2016, at least four lions that died at Etawah in Uttar Pradesh were infected by the CDV, as confirmed by the Indian Veterinary Research Institute. In early 1994, CDV wiped out 30% of the total lion population in the Serengeti forest areas in East Africa.
  • As per the forest department’s 2015 census, Gujarat was home to 523 lions the count having almost doubled since 1990, when it was 284. The latest initial estimates put the count at over 600 lions.
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