Pandas in China's Xi'an dying of canine distemper

Giant panda twins Maozhu and Maosun play at the Giant Panda Research Base in Chengdu, Sichuan province on Nov 20, 2014. An outbreak of canine distemper has claimed the lives of four pandas, regarded as national treasures in China, in the space o
Giant panda twins Maozhu and Maosun play at the Giant Panda Research Base in Chengdu, Sichuan province on Nov 20, 2014. An outbreak of canine distemper has claimed the lives of four pandas, regarded as national treasures in China, in the space of two months at a wildlife centre in the country's north-west, China Daily reported on Friday, Feb 6, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

AN OUTBREAK of canine distemper has claimed the lives of four pandas, regarded as national treasures in China, in the space of two months at a wildlife centre in the country's north-west, China Daily reported on Friday.

Canine distemper is a highly contagious virus that mainly infects dogs and cats. The mortality rate can reach 80 percent.

The outbreak was discovered at the Shaanxi Rare Wildlife Rescue and Breeding Research Centre in Xi'an on Dec 9 following the death of a panda, China Daily said. Two more bears succumbed to the disease on Jan 4 and 23, despite intensive care.

On Wednesday, five-year-old panda Feng Feng, became the latest casualty. Diagnosed with distemper on Dec 26, it died of organ failure and breathing difficulties after more than a month of treatment by 30 experts, China Daily said.

It cited Han Xueli, general office director of the wildlife centre as saying that Feng Feng was the youngest among the four dead bearsand had survived for the longest after being diagnosed with the disease. The centre housed 25 pandas before the epidemic broke out.

Another panda has been diagnosed with the virus and three more are suspected of being infected.

Han said the centre has deployed its emergency plan for disease control and prevention immediately after the outbreak was discovered. Animals are being kept in separate rooms with a staff member assigned to care for each of them. The entire facility has also been disinfected, Han added.