In the summer of 1992, morbidity and mortality in juvenile double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus; DCC) attributable to Newcastle disease virus (NDV) was observed for the first time in seven northern USA states and one Canadian province, and recurred in three western Canadian provinces. Based on clinical signs and laboratory diagnostic findings, DCC mortality from NDV occurred in 59 of the 63 nesting colonies and two of three non-colony sites investigated. An estimate of in excess of 20,000 DCC died, with mortality rates ranging from <1 to 37% in Great Lakes colonies to 20 to 92% in Minnesota (USA) and North and South Dakota (USA) colonies. Sick juvenile white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) exhibiting signs similar to sick cormorants, and dead pelicans were observed in Minnesota and North Dakota. Mortality rates in pelican colonies were as high as in the adjacent cormorant colonies, but no cause for the mortality of an estimated 5,000 pelicans was determined. No evidence of NDV was found in other species nesting in proximity to affected cormorants. Although the source of the NDV infection is unknown in cormorants, the simultaneous onset of the epizootics in juvenile birds over a wide geographic area implies that the virus was acquired by adults prior to migration and was carried back to nest sites, exposing susceptible nestlings. The possible transmission of this virus from free-ranging wild birds to domestic poultry is a concern. Based on repeated epizootics in cormorants since 1990, NDV seems to be established in DCC.
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Vol. 35 • No. 2