Samples of brain, intestine, liver, lung, spleen, and bursa of Fabricius were collected from five common eider (Somateria mollissima) duckling carcasses during a die-off in the western Gulf of Finland (59°50′N, 23°15′E) in June 1996. No viral activity was observed in specific-pathogen-free chicken embryos inoculated with tissue suspensions, but samples of bursa of Fabricius from three birds were positive when inoculated into Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) embryo fibroblasts. The isolates were characterized as nonenveloped RNA viruses and possessed several characteristics of the genus Orthoreovirus. Virus particles were icosahedral with a mean diameter of 72 nm and were stable at pH 3.0; their genome was separated into 10 segments by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) ducklings experimentally infected with the eider reovirus showed elevated serum activities of aspartate aminotransferase, creatine kinase, and lactate dehydrogenase enzymes and focal hemorrhages in the liver, spleen, and bursa of Fabricius. During 1997–99, the prevalence of neutralizing antibodies to the isolated virus ranged from 0 to 86% in 302 serum samples collected from incubating eider hens at three nesting areas along coastal Finland. The highest seroprevalence was found in Hanko in 1999, just weeks before reports of an uninvestigated mortality event resulting in the death of an estimated 98% of ducklings at that location. These findings raise the question of potential involvement of the virus in poor duckling survival and eider population declines observed in several breeding areas along coastal Finland since the mid-1980s.
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