Two immature female bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) were found stranded on the Atlantic coast of the USA. Necropsy and histopathologic examination of both dolphins demonstrated acute necrotizing lesions in multiple organ systems. Commonly seen in these lesions were cells with enlarged nuclei that contained single 4 to 6 μm diameter homogeneous eosinophilic inclusion bodies that were often surrounded by a clear halo. Ultrastructural examination revealed that intranuclear inclusions contained 90 to 110 nm diameter viral particles with electron-dense cores and hexagonal profiles. Viral particles were also present in the cytoplasm, and these were surrounded by variably electron-dense envelopes. Enveloped virions were 140 nm in diameter. Polymerase chain reactions targeting the DNA polymerase and terminase genes of herpesviruses were carried out on unfixed tissues of both animals, and analysis of the DNA products indicated the presence of two novel alphaherpesviruses. The gross, histologic, ultrastructural, and molecular genetic findings indicate disseminated herpesviral infections, and support the conclusion that the alphaherpesviruses caused the deaths of the two dolphins. This is the first report of disseminated herpesviral infection in cetaceans.
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Vol. 37 • No. 2