Small superficially ulcerated skin lesions were observed between October 2009 and September 2011 during captive care of two orphaned sea otter pups: one northern (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) in Alaska and one southern (Enhydra lutris nereis) in California. Inclusions consistent with poxviral infection were diagnosed by histopathology in both cases. Virions consistent with poxvirus virions were seen on electron microscopy in the northern sea otter, and the virus was successfully propagated in cell culture. DNA extraction, pan-chordopoxviral PCR amplification, and sequencing of the DNA-dependent DNA polymerase gene revealed that both cases were caused by a novel AT-rich poxvirus. Bayesian and maximum likelihood phylogenetic analyses found that the virus is divergent from other known poxviruses at a level consistent with a novel genus. These cases were self-limiting and did not appear to be associated with systemic illness. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a poxvirus in a mustelid species. The source of this virus, mode of transmission, zoonotic potential, and biological significance are undetermined.
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Vol. 50 • No. 3