China: Deadly virus infects giant pandas

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(CNN) — The World Wildlife Fund estimates there are just 1,600 giant pandas still living in the wild, and now the endangered species is facing a dangerous new threat — a deadly virus known as canine distemper.

It’s already claimed the lives of two pandas in China, despite veterinarians’ efforts to save them. And now, five-year-old Feng Feng clings to life with serious damage to his heart, kidney, liver and lungs.

Once infected, researchers say up to 80 percent of pandas die of the disease.

“There’s actually no medicine of special efficacy in an antiviral therapy,” said Jin Yipeng, professor of veterinary medicine at China Agriculture University. “For an infection, what we need to do most is to win time for the panda’s immune system to recover to a level strong enough to resist the virus.”

Chinese state media reported that the impacted panda reserve has sent away all 21 of its healthy pandas.

“We used to disinfect panda houses twice and three times a week, and for the enclosure, once a week, and now we’ve made the sterilization once a day,” said panda breeder Zhou Qiang.

China has devoted considerable resources to saving the giant panda, an endangered species that is considered a national treasure. Scientists have made progress in the past decade, getting the notoriously uninterested pandas to breed in captivity, which is why the spread of the virus is so alarming for the pandas’ caretakers and their many, many fans.

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