Distemper was detected in a stone marten (Martes foina) from the Enschede area in the Dutch province of Overijssel. The animal was seen to be behaving oddly for several days before being found dead in a pond in December 2016. According to the individual who submitted the cadaver, the stone marten had shown aggression and no fear; it had attacked people getting into their cars although fortunately nobody was bitten. Following consultation with the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority and the local health authority, postmortem exam was carried out at the Dutch Wildlife Health Centre.
Microscopic examination of this adult female stone marten showed it to have encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) which could explain the unusual behavior that was observed before its death. Although wildlife in the Netherlands has been rabies-free for years, the aggressive behavior of this animal meant that this disease had to be considered. Test results were negative indicating that the stone marten was not infected with the rabies virus. Further testing demonstrated that the animal was infected with the canine distemper virus making it the first such case to be identified at the DWHC. Previously this virus had been found in a badger from North Brabant in 2013.
Distemper is caused by the canine distemper virus (CDV), a member of the Morbillivirus genus which also includes the measles and seal distemper viruses. Canine distemper virus is a highly infectious disease of canids and mustelids. As the majority of domestic dogs are vaccinated against this disease it is rarely seen in dogs in the Netherlands.
The canine distemper virus is not dangerous for humans.
CDV is typically spread by direct contact with an infected animal or indirectly via infected saliva, feces or urine. It can also be passed on in inhaled infectious particles resulting in infection of the airways. Infected animals can recover and develop immunity to the virus, however, in animals with weak immunity the infection can cause death within a month.
Whilst it is impossible to known if or how many other stone martens are infected, to-date the DWHC has not received any other similar reports.
Vaccinating your dog against canine distemper virus is important: Non-vaccinated animals or those whose course of vaccination is not complete are at risk of infection if they come into contact with the virus directly (an infected animal) or indirectly (infected urine, feces, saliva).
There is more information about canine distemper virus on the DWHC website.