The papillomavirus causes growths on the skin of the European elk (Alces alces)
The papillomavirus is found in several different animal species, but generally each species has its own virus which is not contagious to others. It appears that the elk papillomavirus is fairly common in Finland, since reports of skin growths on elk are received at the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira every year from all around the country, from the southwest coast all the way to Lapland.
Contagion is at its height in the mating season
Because the virus spreads by touch from animal to animal, elk rut is the optimum time for contagion. The virus may also be spread when the same tree trunk is used by several different individuals for scratching.
Because the growths caused in elk by the papillomavirus are often very fibrous, they are solid to the touch, even hard. The lump might have a smooth, hairless surface or it might be uneven, like a cauliflower. Sometimes the surface is broken and bloody. The size varies from a barely discernible nodule to growths the size of a fist, and they can merge to form a large, single mass.
Papilloma growths do not influence the quality of the meat
Papilloma growths only occur on the skin, and therefore they do not cause any changes in the quality of the meat. If the growths hinder the elk’s ability to forage for food or if they become infected, the animal’s general physical condition may deteriorate, but this is probably a rare occurrence. Provided that no unusual changes are observed in the animal’s internal organs and carcass after skinning, the meat may be used as normal despite the presence of lumps on the skin.
Although lumps caused by the papillomavirus may remain on the elk’s skin for months, most of them will heal and disappear, once the animal’s own resistance takes over. An animal cured of the infection remains immune to new infections.
Occasionally lumps on the skin may be caused by other viruses or by bacteria or internal tumours. Methods applying molecular genetics are used to check for a viral infection.
Evira in Oulu accepts samples and observations of growths found on an elk’s skin.
Marja Isomursu, Researcher
tel: +358 (0)40-5121248
Minna Nylund, Senior Researcher
tel: +358 (0)40-4893393