Fewer than 500 Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) remain in the wild. Due to low numbers and their solitary and reclusive nature, tiger sightings across their range in the Russian Far East and China are rare; sightings of sick tigers are rarer still. Serious neurologic disease observed in several wild tigers since 2001 suggested disease emergence in this endangered species. To investigate this possibility, histology, immunohistochemistry (IHC), in situ hybridization (ISH), and reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) were performed on tissues from 5 affected tigers that died or were destroyed in 2001, 2004, or 2010. Our results reveal canine distemper virus (CDV) infection as the cause of neurologic disease in two tigers and definitively establish infection in a third. Nonsuppurative encephalitis with demyelination, eosinophilic nuclear viral inclusions, and positive immunolabeling for CDV by IHC and ISH were present in the two tigers with available brain tissue. CDV phosphoprotein (P) and hemagglutinin (H) gene products were obtained from brains of these two tigers by RT-PCR, and a short fragment of CDV P gene sequence was detected in lymph node tissue of a third tiger. Phylogenetically, Amur tiger CDV groups with an Arctic-like strain in Baikal seals (Phoca siberica). Our results, which include mapping the location of positive tigers and recognition of a cluster of cases in 2010, coupled with a lack of reported CDV antibodies in Amur tigers prior to 2000 suggest wide geographic distribution of CDV across the tiger range and recent emergence of CDV as a significant infectious disease threat to endangered Amur tigers in the Russian Far East.
Seimon TA, Miquelle DG, Chang TY, Newton AL, Korotkova I, Ivanchuk G, Lyubchenko E, Tupikov A, Slabe E, McAloose D. 2013. Canine distemper virus: an emerging disease in wild endangered Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica). mBio 4(4):e00410-13. doi:10.1128/mBio.00410-13