Description, Causes and Risk Factors:
Aleutian disease is not a new disease and was first reported in ferrets in the late 1960's. The virus was named after the Aleutian strain of the mink (Aleutian mink disease virus) in which Aleutian disease was first discovered in the 1940's. Acute disease manifests itself as a lytic infection of rapidly dividing cells. Chronic disease re?ects a restricted or abortive infection of speci?c cell types.
Antigen Stage: The antigen-antibody reaction stage occurs when excessive antibody production without neutralization of the virus occurs. The ferret has lost it's ability to fight the disease, but the immune system continues to try to fight the infection. Ferrets infected during birth or as kits often reach this stage very quickly. It is at this stage that the advanced symptoms of the disease will occur.
Antibody Stage: Any of a large variety of immunoglobulins normally present in the body, or produced in response to an antigen, which it neutralizes, thus producing an immune response. When a ferret has contracted ADV (Aleutian mink disease virus), they may begin in the Antibody stage. They may not show any symptoms of the disease at all, as their bodies are fighting the infection.
Aleutian disease (AD) is known to produce clinical signs in mink and ferrets only, although other mammals have reportedly been antibody positive. Occurrence in human is rare. In adult mink, Aleutian disease is a persistent, slowly progressive, in which a dysregulated immune system and a postinfectious antibody response cause an immune complex-mediated vasculitis. Perivascular and glomerular immune complexes can cause membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis and segmental or circumferential arteritis with mononuclear in?ltration, ?brinoid necrosis and deposits, and increased intimal cellularity. Mononuclear cells may surround the vessel, and connective tissue proliferation and necrosis in the tunica elastica media narrow the lumen. In mink kits, Aleutian disease causes an acute cytopathic infection of alveolar cells, which leads to respiratory distress and death.
Aleutian disease is caused by a parvovirus and may have strains of varying strength and varying immune response. The Aleutian mink disease virus in ferrets may be a mutation of Aleutian mink disease virus of mink. Essentially the virus interferes with the immune system. Aleutian mink disease virus causes a huge increase in antibodies (specifically gamma globulins) in the blood. This condition is known as hypergammaglobulinemia. These antibodies combine with the Aleutian mink disease virus particles to form compounds called antigen/antibody complexes. These complexes are deposited within the tissues of multiple organs in the body, such as kidneys, liver, bile ducts, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, blood vessels and bladder, resulting in inflammation. Within the inflamed tissues two types of white blood cells predominate: Plasmacytes and lymphocytes. If the inflammation is mild, the ferret may appear clinically normal. If the inflammation is severe enough, the ferret will show signs of disease relating to the organ or organs affected. For instance, if the spinal cord is affected, the ferret will exhibit signs of neurological disease.
The exact mechanism by which the Aleutian mink disease virus affects the immune system is still poorly understood, but we do know that the end result is inflammation seen in multiple organs on microscopic examination. Interference with the immune system could cause the ferret to be more susceptible to viral enteritis, canine distemper virus, lymphoma and other diseases.
Transmission of Aleutian mink disease virus can be via the air, but is usually accomplished by direct contact with infected ferrets' urine, saliva, blood, or feces. Aleutian mink disease virus can also be transmitted through contact with contaminated cages, gloves, towels, or humans. At this time it is impossible to say with any certainty how quickly or easily the disease is transmitted.
Symptoms include weight loss, lethargy, enlarged liver and/or spleen, tarry stool, rear legweakness, and neurologic signs. From this list you can see that these symptoms are the same asmore common ferret diseases such as insulinoma and Helicobacter gastro-intestinal infections.
Nails: When a ferret is in the Antibody stage, it's system isbuilding up proteins, and may cause the nails to grow at afaster rate than normal.
Fur: Also due to the protein build up, ferrets may develop a thick, luxurious coat. Your ferret will look marvelous.
Eyes: It has been observed that a number ferretshave watery eyes. This does not occur in every case, though.
Coughing: Ferrets may develop a dry, hacking cough,similar to the cough of a hairball.
Teeth: Teeth and gums may bleed.
A presumptive diagnosis of Aleutian disease in ferrets is based on clinical signs asdescribed above along with a positive counterelectrophoresis (CEP) blood test,and a rule out of other potential disease. Some ferrets may also exhibithypergammaglobulinemia which can be demonstrated on a blood test called proteinelectrophoresis. The gamma globulins can comprise up to 20% of the serum totalprotein value. It is difficult to definitively diagnose Aleutian disease as the primary cause ofclinical disease in the live ferret. The most definitive diagnosis of Aleutian disease is made byhistopathologic (microscopic) examination of the tissues of multiple organs. On apost mortem examination there is very little to be seen with the naked eye that wouldconclusively point to a diagnosis of Aleutian disease. An enlarged liver or spleen, enlarged lymphnodes or mottled kidneys may be noted, but are not specific to Aleutian disease. Histopathologyof an Aleutian disease ferret's tissues, however, consistently reveals inflammation with clumps oflymphocytes and plasmacytes infiltrating multiple organs such as liver, bile ducts,kidneys, central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), blood vessels,gastrointestinal tract, and bladder. Lymphocytic-plasmacytic infiltrates inmultiple organs have historically been classic pathologic signs of AD, particularlywhen accompanied by glomerulonephritis.
It is important to note that if a diagnosis of Aleutian disease is to be made on a ferret thathas died, it is imperative that tissues from multiple organs be submitted forhistopathological examination in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis. As a minimum, the organs submitted should include: kidney, liver with bile ducts, intestine,spinal cord and bladder.
Other Tests: Currently the only available blood test for detection of ADV is the CEP (counterelectrophoresis) test.
Since there is no specific treatment for Aleutian disease, the detection of infected ferret is extremely important for preventing further spread of the disease.
If your ferret is diagnosed as Aleutian mink disease virus positive (ADV+), you should inform your vet immediately, and ask him to research the treatments available for the various symptoms. Any severe symptoms will require you to take the ferret to the vet. Remember to discuss vaccinations and Aleutian mink disease virus with your vet before hand. Of course, an Aleutian mink disease virus positive ferret is susceptible to all of the other diseases that commonly occur in ferrets.
Several organizations are currently conducting research to develop a vaccination for Aleutian mink disease virus. A cure does not seem likely, and prevention may be the key.
NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.
DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.
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