Three separate epidemics occurred in caiman lizards (Dracaena guianensis) that were imported into the USA from Peru in late 1998 and early 1999. Histologic evaluation of tissues from necropsied lizards demonstrated a proliferative pneumonia. Electron microscopic examination of lung tissue revealed a virus that was consistent with members of the family Paramyxoviridae. Using a rabbit polyclonal antibody against an isolate of ophidian (snake) paramyxovirus, an immunoperoxidase staining technique demonstrated immunoreactivity within pulmonary epithelial cells of 1 lizard. Homogenates of lung, brain, liver, or kidney from affected lizards were placed in flasks containing monolayers of either terrapene heart cells or viper heart cells. Five to 10 days later, syncytial cells formed. When Vero cells were inoculated with supernatant of infected terrapene heart cells, similar syncytial cells developed. Electron microscopic evaluation of infected terrapene heart cells revealed intracytoplasmic inclusions consisting of nucleocapsid strands. Using negative-staining electron microscopy, abundant filamentous nucleocapsid material with a herringbone structure typical of the Paramyxoviridae was observed in culture medium of infected viper heart cells. Seven months following the initial epizootic, blood samples were collected from surviving group 1 lizards, and a hemagglutination inhibition assay was performed to determine presence of specific antibody against the caiman lizard isolate. Of the 17 lizards sampled, 7 had titers of ≤1:20 and 10 had titers of >1:20 and ≤1:80. This report is only the second of a paramyxovirus identified in a lizard and is the first to snow the relationship between histologic and ultrastructural findings and virus isolation.
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