Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues from one Caspian seal (Phoca caspica), one harp seal (Phoca groenlandica), one hooded seal (Cystophora cristata), and one harbor seal (Phoca vitulina vitulina) were used to compare the utility of immunohistochemistry (IHC) versus that of a novel seminested reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to detect and differentiate canine distemper virus (CDV) and phocine distemper virus (PDV). Four antibodies made against PDV were able to detect both viruses. Two antibodies made against cetacean morbillivirus (CMV) did not label antigens from either CDV or PDV. A third anti-CMV antibody inconsistently stained CDV antigens but did not label PDV antigens. The seminested RT-PCR was able to detect RNA of the phosphoprotein gene in all positive cases. Nucleotide sequence analyses of seminested RT-PCR products were used to differentiate CDV RNA from PDV RNA. From these data, it was determined that IHC using antibodies generated against PDV provided a rapid means of detection for both CDV and PDV antigens; however, differentiation between CDV and PDV was achieved only with the RT-PCR assay.

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