Q - What is ADV? What are the symptoms and what can I do for my ferret?
A - Aleutian Disease (also ADV, for Aleutian Disease Virus) is a highly contagious parvovirus affecting mustelids, causing spontaneous abortion and death in minks and ferrets.
History: Aleutian Disease was first recognized in ranch-raised mink in 1956. The disease was so named because it was first found in mink with the Aleutian coat color gene, a gun-metal grey pelt. It was assumed that the disease was a result of poor genetics, but it was later found that minks of all coat colors were susceptible to the disease - but tend to have a lower mortality compared with Aleutian Mink.
In the 1960's, it was common practice for mink ranchers to make their own distemper vaccines by homogenizing from distemper-infected mink, making suspensions, and injecting all the mink on their ranch. This practice led to a severe outbreak of AD on a Connecticut ranch, with a mortality of almost 100% in less than 6 months. The disease spread from minks to ferrets, as the two were raised on the same farms.
Transmission: ADV is highly contagious. It is transferred through a ferret's bodily fluids, and it can be lie dormant in dried urine or on an owner's clothes and shoes for up to two years. Known cases of ADV positive ferrets should not be taken to places where they may come in contact with other ferrets. They also should not be allowed to run on floors or other areas where uninfected ferrets or their owners may come in contact with residual traces of the virus from the infected animals.
Symptoms: A lethal infection in mink, the Aleutian disease virus lays dormant in ferrets until stress or injury allows it to surface. While the parvovirus itself causes little or no harm to the ferret host, the large number of antibodies produced in response to the presence of the virus results in a systemic vasculitis, resulting in eventual renal failure, bone marrow suppression and death. The symptoms are chronic, progressive weight loss, lethargy, hepatomegaly and/or enlarged spleen, anemia, rear leg weakness, seizures and black tarry stool. Once symptoms show themselves, the disease progresses rapidly, usually to death within a few months.
Testing and Treatment: There is currently no known treatment for Aleutian virus. When evidence of ADV shows in a ferret, it is strongly recommended that a CEP (counterimmunoelectrophoresis) blood test or an IFA (immunoflourescent antibody) test be done. The CEP test is usually faster and less expensive than the IFA test, but the IFA test is more sensitive and can detect the disease in borderline cases. Prevention is best accomplished by stopping the spread of ADV. Any new ferret, or those who have been confirmed as serum positive for the virus should be perpetually isolated from other ferrets. All items that may have come into contact with the infected ferret should be cleaned with a 10% bleach solution.
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