Longitudinal analysis of pinnipeds in the northwest Atlantic provides insights on endemic circulation of phocine distemper virus

Wendy Puryear, Kaitlin Sawatzki, Andrea Bogomolni, Nichola Hill, Alexa Foss, Iben Stokholm, Morten Tange Olsen, Ole Nielsen, Thomas Waltzek, Tracey Goldstein, Kuttichantran Subramaniam, Thais Carneiro Santos Rodrigues, Manjunatha Belaganahalli, Lynda Doughty, Lisa Becker, Ashley Stokes, Misty Niemeyer, Allison Tuttle, Tracy Romano, Mainity Batista LinharesDeborah Fauquier, Jonathan Runstadler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phocine distemper virus (PDV) is a morbillivirus that circulates within pinnipeds in the North Atlantic. PDV has caused two known unusual mortality events (UMEs) in western Europe (1988, 2002), and two UMEs in the northwest Atlantic (2006, 2018). Infrequent cross-species transmission and waning immunity are believed to contribute to periodic outbreaks with high mortality in western Europe. The viral ecology of PDV in the northwest Atlantic is less well defined and outbreaks have exhibited lower mortality than those in western Europe. This study sought to understand the molecular and ecological processes underlying PDV infection in eastern North America. We provide phylogenetic evidence that PDV was introduced into northwest Atlantic pinnipeds by a single lineage and is now endemic in local populations. Serological and viral screening of pinniped surveillance samples from 2006 onward suggest there is continued circulation of PDV outside of UMEs among multiple species with and without clinical signs. We report six full genome sequences and nine partial sequences derived from harbour and grey seals in the northwest Atlantic from 2011 through 2018, including a possible regional variant. Work presented here provides a framework towards greater understanding of how recovering populations and shifting species may impact disease transmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20211841
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1962
StatePublished - 2021


  • morbillivirus
  • seal
  • unusual mortality event
  • viral genetics
  • virology
  • wildlife disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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