An iridovirus was confirmed to be the cause of an epizootic in larval and adult tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum diaboli) from four separate ponds in southern Saskatchewan (Canada) during the summer of 1997. This organism also is suspected, based on electron microscopic findings, to be the cause of mortality of larval tiger salamanders in a pond over 200 km to the north during the same year. Salamanders developed a generalized viremia which resulted in various lesions including: necrotizing, vesicular and ulcerative dermatitis; gastrointestinal ulceration; and necrosis of hepatic, splenic, renal, lymphoid, and hematopoietic tissues. In cells associated with these lesions, large lightly basophilic cytoplasmic inclusions and vacuolated nuclei with marginated chromatin were consistently found. Virus was isolated from tissue homogenates of infected salamanders following inoculation of epithelioma papilloma cyprini (EPC) cells. The virus, provisionally designated Regina ranavirus (RRV), was initially identified as an iridovirus by electron microscopy. Subsequent molecular characterization, including partial sequence analysis of the major capsid protein (MCP) gene, confirmed this assignment and established that RRV was a ranavirus distinct from frog virus 3 (FV3) and other members of the genus Ranavirus. Intraperitoneal inoculation of 5 × 106.23 TCID50 of the field isolate caused mortality in inoculated salamanders at 13 days post infection. Field, clinical, and molecular studies jointly suggest that the etiological agent of recent salamander mortalities is a highly infectious novel ranavirus.
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Vol. 35 • No. 3