Canine distemper virus (CDV) is a highly contagious disease of wild and domestic mammals. Maintenance of CDV among wildlife plays an important role in the disease epidemiology. Wild animals, including raccoons (Procyon lotor) and gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), serve as reservoirs of CDV and hamper the control of the disease. Recently, we discovered that at least three different CDV lineages (America-3 [Edomex], America-4, and America-5] that are genetically different from the available vaccine strains are circulating in domestic dogs in the United States. Because wildlife serve as a reservoir for the virus, it is important to determine if wildlife play a role in the maintenance and spread of these lineages. To determine the genetic characteristics of circulating strains of CDV in wildlife in various geographic regions in the United States, we studied the nucleotide sequences of the hemagglutinin (H) gene of 25 CDV strains detected in nondomestic species. The species included were free-ranging wildlife: three fishers (Martes pennanti), six foxes, one skunk (Mephitis mephitis), 10 raccoons, two wolves (Canis lupus), and one mink (Neovison vison). Strains from two species in managed care, one sloth (Choloepus didactylus) and one red panda (Ailurus fulgens), were also evaluated. Phylogenetic analysis of the H genes indicated that in addition to America-3, America-4, and America-5 lineages, there are at least two other lineages circulating in US wildlife. One of these includes CDV nucleotide sequences that grouped with that of a single CDV isolate previously detected in a raccoon from Rhode Island in 2012. The other lineage is independent and genetically distinct from other CDV strains included in the analysis. Additional genetically variable strains were detected, mainly in raccoons, suggesting that this species may be the host responsible for the genetic variability of newly detected strains in the domestic dog population.
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