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Phylogenomic insights to the origin and spread of phocine distemper virus in European harbour seals in 1988 and 2002

Journal article
Authors Iben Stokholm
Tero Härkönen
Karin C. Harding
Ursula Siebert
Kristina Lehnert
Rune Dietz
Jonas Teilmann
Anders Galatius
Linnea Worsøe Havmøller
Emma L. Carroll
Ailsa Hall
Morten Tange Olsen
Published in Diseases of Aquatic Organisms
Volume 133
Pages 47-56
ISSN 0177-5103
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 47-56
Language en
Keywords Epidemic, Morbillivirus, Viral phylogeny, Virus evolution, Wildlife pathogen
Subject categories Biological Sciences


© Inter-Research 2019 · The 1988 and 2002 phocine distemper virus (PDV) outbreaks in European harbour seals Phoca vitulina are among the largest mass mortality events recorded in marine mammals. Despite its large impact on harbour seal population numbers, and 3 decades of studies, many questions regarding the spread and temporal origin of PDV remain unanswered. Here, we sequenced and analysed 7123 bp of the PDV genome, including the coding and non-coding regions of the entire P, M, F and H genes in tissues from 44 harbour seals to shed new light on the origin and spread of PDV in 1988 and 2002. The phylogenetic analyses trace the origin of the PDV strain causing the 1988 outbreak to between June 1987 and April 1988, while the origin of the strain causing the 2002 outbreak can be traced back to between July 2001 and April 2002. The analyses further point to several independent introductions of PDV in 1988, possibly linked to a southward mass immigration of harp seals in the winter and spring of 1987−1988. The vector for the 2002 outbreak is unknown, but the epidemiological analyses suggest the subsequent spread of PDV from the epicentre in the Kattegat, Denmark, to haul-out sites in the North Sea through several independent introductions.

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