Phocine herpesvirus-1 (PhHV-1) has been associated with morbidity and high mortality in neonatal harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) along the Pacific coast of California (USA) and in northern Europe. Seals dying with PhHV-1 associated disease in California primarily have histopathologic evidence of adrenal necrosis or adrenalitis with herpesviral inclusion bodies. Little is known about prevalence of exposure to PhHV-1, modes of disease transmission, and viral pathogenesis in free-ranging harbor seal populations. To evaluate the prevalence in North America, 866 serum samples collected between 1994 and 2002 from harbor seals captured or stranded on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America were assayed by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for evidence of PhHV-1 exposure. Samples from three harbor seal age classes (pre-weaned, weaned, and subadults/adults) were obtained from each of four regions to compare exposure among sex, age class, and region. We found increasing prevalence with age as 37.5% of pre-weaned pups, 87.6% of weaned pups, and 99.0% of subadults and adults were seropositive. When accounting for age, no associations between seropositivity and sex or location of harbor seals were detected. These data indicate that PhHV-1 is endemic in the harbor seal populations of North America.
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Vol. 39 • No. 3