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RSPCA on alert for deadly seal virus

THE RSPCA is preparing to deal with a deadly seal virus in case it spreads to British waters following an outbreak in Denmark – and could put dogs at risk as well as other seals.

There are fears Phocine Distemper Virus (PDV) could spread from seals in Denmark as it did in 1988 and 2002 when the virus devastated the populations of common seals around Britain.
The RSPCA is currently unaware of any reports of unusual seal mortality on the UK coast which would be the first indication that the disease had reached Britain.

However, staff are drawing up an action plan based on previous experience of dealing with infected seals.

Adam Grogan, the RSPCA's wildlife rehabilitation co-ordinator, said: ‘We are very worried about the possibility of this virus spreading to the British seal population.

‘The previous outbreaks in 2002 and 1988 devastated the common seal population and we are hoping that this does not happen again.

‘Currently we have had no reports of any unusual problems with seals at any of the RSPCA’s wildlife centres but our staff are on alert for any unusual cases. We are currently exploring all options so that we are prepared to deal with an outbreak in UK waters.’

An outbreak of the virus in 1988 killed over 23,000 seals around Europe, including about 3,000 seals around Britain. In The Wash in East Anglia about half of the 3,000 seal population are thought to have died.

A further outbreak in 2002 killed 30,000 seals in Europe, but had a much-reduced impact in the UK, with the Wash being worst hit with 22% of seals being affected.

The disease does not affect people, but the public are being advised to keep away from seals but to report any sick or injured animals to the RSPCA as quickly as possible on 0870 5555 999.

Dogs should also be kept on leads and away from seals as they could be at risk of catching the virus.