In 1992 we began an investigation into incidents of unusual and mass mortalities of the common frog (Rana temporaria) in Britain which were being reported unsolicited to us in increasing numbers by members of the public. Investigations conducted at ten sites of unusual mortality resulted in two main disease syndromes being found: one characterized by skin ulceration and one characterized by systemic haemorrhages. However, frogs also were found with lesions common to both of these syndromes and microscopic skin lesions common to both syndromes were seen. The bacterium Aeromonas hydrophila, which has been described previously as causing similar lesions, was isolated significantly more frequently from haemorrhagic frogs than from those with skin ulceration only. However, as many of the latter were euthanased, this may have been due to differences in post mortem bacterial invasion. An iridovirus-like particle has been identified on electron microscopical examination of skin lesions from frogs with each syndrome and iridovirus-like inclusions have been detected in the livers of frogs with systemic haemorrhages. Also, an adenovirus-like particle has been cultured from one haemorrhagic frog. A poxvirus-like particle described previously from diseased frogs has now been found also in control animals and has been identified as a melanosome. Both the prevalence of the iridovirus-like particle and its association with lesions indicate that it may be implicated in the aetiology of the disease syndromes observed. Specifically, we hypothesize that primary iridovirus infection, with or without secondary infection with opportunistic pathogens such as A. hydrophila, may cause natural outbreaks of 'red-leg', a disease considered previously to be due to bacterial infection only.
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