From 2000 to 2004, over 10,000 seabirds, primarily Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus), died from an undetermined cause in the Blekinge archipelago in southeastern Sweden. In June 2004, 24 affected Herring Gulls were examined clinically, killed humanely, and 23 were examined by necropsy. Seven and 10 unaffected Herring Gulls collected from a local landfill site and from Iceland, respectively, served as controls. All affected birds showed similar neurologic signs, ranging from mild incoordination and weakness to severe flaccid paralysis of legs and wings, but generally were alert and responsive. All affected gulls were in normal nutritional condition, but were dehydrated and had empty stomachs. No gross or microscopic lesions, and no bacterial or viral pathogens were identified. Type C botulinum toxin was detected in the sera of 11 of 16 (69%) affected gulls by mouse inoculation. Type C botulism was the proximate cause of disease in 2004. Sera from 31% of birds tested from outbreaks in 2000 to 2003 also had detectable type C botulinum toxin by mouse inoculation. No large-scale botulism outbreak has been documented previously in this area. The source of toxin, initiating conditions, and thus, the ultimate cause of this outbreak are not known. This epidemic might signal environmental change in the Baltic Sea.
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