Contagious mucocutaneous dermatitis is a frequently encountered disease of mountain hares (Lepidus timidus) in Finland. We describe the histopathologic changes and propose an etiologic cause for this disorder. Fifty-three cases collected during 1982–2000 were examined histologically. Transmission electron microscopy was performed in one case. In fully developed lesions, keratinocytes in epidermis and follicular infundibula were swollen and contained large eosinophilic intracytoplasmic inclusion bodies with marked reticular and ballooning degeneration. In later stages, there was marked necrosis and ulceration with severe pyogranulomatous and suppurative inflammation. At this stage, no viral inclusions were detectable, but secondary Staphylococcus warnerii infection was present in most cases. In late lesions, there was dermal fibrosis with epidermal hyperplasia. No spiral-shaped bacteria suggesting treponematosis were detected at any stage. Ultrastructurally, swollen epidermal and follicle infundibular cells contained round intracytoplasmic inclusion bodies with a myriad of virions typical of poxvirus with a biconcave nucleocapsid core, two lateral bodies, and a clearly discernible outer lipoprotein capsule. The findings suggest that contagious mucocutaneous dermatitis in mountain hares is a viral disease caused by a poxvirus. The disease is often complicated by secondary bacterial infection, most commonly S. warneri.
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Vol. 41 • No. 4