DURHAM, N.H. – A distinct strain of canine distemper virus, which is a widespread virus of importance to wildlife and domesticated dogs, has been identified in wild animals in New Hampshire and Vermont, according to pathologists with New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the University of New Hampshire.
“A distinct clade, also called a strain, of canine distemper virus is circulating in multiple wildlife species in two contiguous states in Northern New England. “This strain is significantly distinct from the vaccine strains. A member of genus Morbillivirus that includes measles, canine distemper virus is highly contagious and causes severe disease infected animals,” said David Needle, senior veterinary pathologist and assistant clinical professor with New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.
“No virus in this distinct subgroup of canine distemper virus has been reported in a dog yet. This may be due to a lack of analysis of clinical cases by clinical veterinarians, or due to the strain not yet having infected any dogs,” Needle said.
The new strain of canine distemper virus was identified by UNH pathologists in collaboration with colleagues at Cornell University, University of Georgia, Northeast Wildlife Disease Cooperative, N.H. Fish and Game, and Vermont Fish and Game. Over a one-year period, pathologists diagnosed canine distemper virus infection in eight largely carnivorous mammals in southeastern New Hampshire and north central Vermont. The animals included three fishers, two gray foxes, one skunk, one raccoon, and one mink.
The animals were submitted to UNH by state fish and game biologists in New Hampshire and Vermont. Seven animals were observed to be ill or behaving oddly, and one was a carcass from a legally harvested animal by a trapper. All animals had the classic microscopic lesions of canine distemper virus infection.
Pathologists found all animals were infected with a distinct strain of the virus that had been identified only in a single raccoon in Rhode Island in 2004, which was not described in any publication. The eight animal cases also represent the only reports of any canine distemper virus isolated from New Hampshire and Vermont in the GenBank database (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/genbank/).
The identification of this strain of canine distemper virus fills a notable gap in the general knowledge of canine distemper virus strains circulating in North America. It will begin to allow pathologists and veterinarians to understand the evolution of canine distemper virus in New England and throughout the country, Needle said.
“This can and may already be having an impact on the population of wild mesocarnivores in New Hampshire and New England. These animals are integral parts of the varied ecosystems of wild New Hampshire and New England, filling important niches in predator-prey relationships and pest control. Any decrease in wildlife populations is a loss to the rich wild diversity of New Hampshire and New England. The affected animal species also are furbearing mammals that serve as part of the cultural heritage of the northern sportsman,” he said.
Canine distemper virus vaccination is part of the core vaccine protocols for domesticated dogs. All dogs should be vaccinated routinely per manufacturer instructions for canine distemper virus and all other infectious agents as outlined by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association recommendations: https://www.avma.org/news/javmanews/pages/171101f.aspx
Canine distemper virus infection in dogs is a multisystemic disease most often characterized by respiratory disease, oral and nasal discharge, gastroenteritis, and as the disease progresses neurological disease. This is a severe, highly pathogenic and highly contagious disease, so any suspected infection should be reported immediately to a veterinarian. Any unvaccinated animals should be vaccinated.
The results of this case are presented in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1040638719847510).
This research is supported by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station and the State of New Hampshire. The following scientists collaborated with NH Veterinary Diagnostic Lab on this case: Rebecca Wilkes, formerly at University of Georgia, now at Purdue; Eman Anis, University of Georgia; Vivien Burnell, UNH graduate and now veterinary medicine student at Utah State University; Maria Frozan, Ed Dubovi, Krysten Schuler, and Nicholas Hollingshead at Cornell; Brian Stevens, former senior pathologist at the NH Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, now at the University of Guelph (Ontario); Julie Ellis and Walt Cottrell with the Northeast Wildlife Disease Cooperative; Patrick Tate with N.H. Fish and Game; and Chris Bernier with Vermont Fish and Game.
New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Lab is co-managed by the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food and the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. Since 1970, the lab has provided accessible, timely and accurate diagnostic services for the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets, & Food, New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, state and local law enforcement agencies, veterinarians, farmers, state, regional, and federal agencies, and individuals.
Founded in 1887, the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture is UNH’s original research center and an elemental component of New Hampshire’s land-grant university heritage and mission. We steward federal and state funding, including support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide unbiased and objective research concerning diverse aspects of sustainable agriculture and foods, aquaculture, forest management, and related wildlife, natural resources and rural community topics. We maintain the Woodman and Kingman agronomy and horticultural research farms, the Macfarlane Research Greenhouses, the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Additional properties also provide forage, forests and woodlands in direct support to research, teaching, and outreach.
The University of New Hampshire is a flagship research university that inspires innovation and transforms lives in our state, nation and world. More than 16,000 students from all 50 states and 71 countries engage with an award-winning faculty in top ranked programs in business, engineering, law, liberal arts and the sciences across more than 200 programs of study. UNH’s research portfolio includes partnerships with NASA, NOAA, NSF and NIH, receiving more than $100 million in competitive external funding every year to further explore and define the frontiers of land, sea and space.
–Lori Wright, University of New Hampshire