Avian pox is commonly diagnosed in a variety of North American wild and domestic birds, yet little is known about the evolutionary relationships among the causative poxviruses. This study aimed to determine the phylogenetic relationships among isolates identified in different avian host species to better characterize the host range of specific viral strains and compare the genetic variability within and between viral clades. Skin lesions grossly and microscopically consistent with poxvirus infection from 82 birds collected in Canada, the United States, and the U.S. Virgin Islands were included in this study. A total of 12 avian species were represented; the most common species sampled were wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), mourning doves (Zenaida macroura), and American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). Poxvirus samples from these birds were genotyped using PCR that targeted the 4b core protein gene followed by amplicon sequencing. Bayesian phylogenetic analyses of these viruses, in conjunction with publicly available sequences, representing avipoxvirus strains from six continents revealed statistically significant monophyletic clades based on genetic distances of sequences within and between observed clades. Genetic variation within the fowlpox clade was low compared to the canarypox clade. Host and geographic origins of viral isolates revealed overall clustering of viral strains within avian species, with a few exceptions. No genetic differences were observed between viruses from Canada and the United States within individual species. These results are novel in their characterization and comparison of the phylogenetic relationships of poxvirus isolates in wild bird species from North America. Further, we provide new data on the level of host specificity and specific strains circulating in North America.
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Vol. 63 • No. 3