ECE Virus Identified
By Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM
Dr. Matti Kuipel at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine has definitively identified a coronavirus as the cause of Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis (ECE) in the ferret. Loops of gut from a number of cases of ECE submitted to the Purdue Diagnostic Lab stained positively for antibodies against a particular type of coronavirus. These results were repeated at a separate Canadian laboratory. Another collaborator, Dr. Melissa Kennedy of the University of Tennessee, appears to have isolated a primer for a restricted portion of the coronavirus genome from this material.
I have sent material from the original work that I did with the virus in 1994 for confirmation. We have long suspected coronavirus as the cause of ECE – the viruses were seen in the work done at the AFIP in 1994, and sporadically since then.
Dr. Kuipel’s persistent efforts to nail down the cause of the disease will legitimize the disease in the veterinary literature and, it is hoped, will open the door for others to conduct additional research, isolate the agent, and produce diagnostic tests and a vaccine. We are currently working on publishing the pathology data from the entire investigation, dating back to 1994.
Please realize that this is only a first step. A rapid diagnostic test has not been developed (all tests were run on either surgical biopsies of the intestine or necropsy material), a vaccine is not currently available, and the researchers are not developing these products for the market. However, this is a vital piece of the puzzle, and should go far in enticing the right parties to look at the potential for developing these types of products.