Lesions suggestive of poxvirus infection were observed in two Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in Alaska during live capture-and-release studies during 2000 and 2001. Both of these animals, female pups in poor body condition, were from Prince William Sound; this population is part of the declining western stock. Umbilicated, typically ulcerated dermal nodules were present, primarily on the fore flippers in one case, and over most of the body in the second case. Histologically, there were discrete masses in the superficial dermis composed of epithelial cells, some of which contained eosinophilic intracytoplasmic inclusion bodies. Negative staining of skin biopsy homogenates demonstrated the presence of orthopoxvirus-like particles. Total DNA extracted from skin biopsies were analyzed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using primers that targeted the DNA polymerase and DNA topoisomerase genes. These primers directed the amplification of fragments 543 base pairs (bp) and 344 bp, respectively, whose deduced amino acid sequences indicated the presence of a novel poxvirus within the Chordopoxvirinae subfamily. Comparison of these amino acid sequences with homologous sequences from members of the Chordopoxvirinae indicated highest identity with orthopoxviruses.
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Vol. 41 • No. 4