To investigate the possible role of selected pathogens in the decline of endangered European mink (Mustela lutreola) populations and the potential for these pathogens to affect mink survival, a serologic survey was conducted using serum samples collected from March 1996 to March 2003 in eight departments of south-western France. In total, 481 free-ranging individuals of five mustelid species (including the European mink) were tested. Sympatric mustelids can serve as sentinels to determine the presence of antibodies to viruses in the study area that could potentially infect mink. Antibodies to Canine distemper virus (CDV) were detected in all species; 9% of 127 European mink, 20% of 210 polecats (Mustela putorius), 5% of 112 American mink (Mustela vison), 33% of 21 stone marten (Martes foina) and 5% of 20 pine marten (Martes martes). Antibody prevalence was significantly higher in stone marten and polecats, possibly because their ranges overlap more closely with that of domestic species than that of the other species tested. Antibodies to Canine adenovirus were detected in all species but the pine marten; antibody prevalence estimates ranging from 2% to 10%. Antibodies to canine parainfluenza virus were detected in 1% of European mink, 1% of American mink and 5% of tested polecats but were not detected in Martes species. Antibodies to Rabies virus (RV) were detected in three animals, possibly because of interspecies transmission of bat lyssaviruses as the sampling area is considered to be free of RV, or to a lack of test specificity, as antibody titers were low. The high antibody prevalence to potentially lethal CDV suggests that this pathogen could have significant effects on the free-ranging populations and has implications for the conservation efforts for the endangered European mink.
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