Canine Distemper Virus


Canine distemper virus is a highly contagious organism causing distemper in dogs and several wildlife carnivore species. It is closely related to Measles virus, which infects humans.

Keywords: morbillivirus; carnivores; epizootic; distemper; felids

Figure 1.

Simplified canine distemper epidemiology assuming a partially immunized dog population (B: grey segment, vaccinated and immune; white segment, susceptible). Virulent wild‐type Canine distemper virus (CDV) is maintained endemically in various species of wildlife carnivores in which disease occurs at low to moderate incidence, primarily in young individuals (A). Wild‐type CDV can be introduced from A into B (horizontal arrow) and cause small scale regional outbreaks (black dots) among susceptible dogs. C represents a potentially susceptible species/population which is immunologically naive (virgin population) because transmission of virulent CDV from either A or B has been prevented. This is due to spatial (geographic) separation or because of species‐specific host factors which allow efficient viral replication only after adaptation. Once the virus penetrates the border, population C is at risk of a fulminant epizootic associated with high morbidity and mortality rates among all age classes.

Figure 2.

Unrooted phylogenetic tree of Canine distemper virus (CDV). Evolutionary relationships are based on the analysis of the open reading frame encoding the H glycoprotein, the viral attachment factor. The construction of the tree is based on the maximum likelihood method. The genetic distances are drawn to scale (bar indicates 0.01 nucleotide replacements per site). Numbers indicate the percentage of bootstrap samples out of 1000 replications in which the respective cluster is supported. Values > 90% significantly signal a separate position of the cluster. Other phylogeny methods (parsimony, neighbour‐joining), as well as the use of the deduced amino acid sequence of the H protein for comparisons, yielded very similar topologies. The insert displays the topology when isolates of the Phocid distemper virus (PDV) are added. PDV, the causative agent of the 1988 European seal mass mortality, is the morbillivirus species most closely related to, though distinct from, CDV. The natural host spectrum of these viruses is at least partially overlapping. No species abbreviation, dog; Bl, black leopard (zoo); Cl, Chinese leopard (zoo); F, ferret; Jv, javellina; M, mink; Rc, raccoon; Rd, raccoon dog; Den, Denmark; Ger, Germany; Con, Convac strain; Ond, Onderstepoorf strain. All sequences were accessed from the GenBank database.



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Liermann H, Harder TC, Löchelt M et al. (1998) Genetic analysis of the central untranslated genome region and the proximal coding part of the F gene of wild‐type and vaccine canine distemper morbilliviruses. Virus Genes 17: 259–270.

Löffler S, Lottspeich F, Lanza F et al. (1997) CD9, a tetraspan transmembrane protein, renders cells susceptible to canine distemper virus. Journal of Virology 71: 42–49.

Mee AP, Dixon JA, Hoyland JA et al. (1998) Detection of canine distemper virus in 100% of Paget's disease samples by in situ‐reverse transcriptase‐polymerase chain reaction. Bone 23: 171–175.

Osterhaus AD, Visser IK, de Swart RL et al. (1992) Morbillivirus threat to Mediterranean monk seals? Veterinary Record 130: 141–142.

Roelke‐Parker ME, Munson L, Packer C et al. (1996) A canine distemper virus epidemic in Serengeti lions (Panthera leo). Nature 379: 441–445.

von Messling V, Harder TC, Moennig V et al. (1999) Rapid and sensitive detection of immunoglobulin M (IgM) and IgG antibodies against canine distemper virus by a new recombinant nucleocapsid protein‐based enzyme‐linked immunosorbent assay. Journal of Clinical Microbiology 37: 1049–1056.

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Further Reading

Appel MJG and Gillespie JH (1972) Canine distemper virus. Virology Monographs 11: 1–96.

Barrett T, Subbarao SM, Belsham GJ and Mahy BWJ (1991) The molecular biology of morbilliviruses. In: Kingsbury D (ed.) The Paramyxoviruses, pp. 83–102. New York: Plenum Press.

Blixenkrone‐Möller M (1993) Biological properties of phocine distemper virus and canine distemper viruses. APMIS 101 (supplement 36): 1–51.

Chappuis G (1995) Control of canine distemper. Veterinary Microbiology 45: 351–358.

de Swart RL, Harder TC, Ross PS, Vos HW and Osterhaus ADME (1995) Morbilliviruses and morbillivirus diseases of marine mammals. Infectious Agents and Disease 4: 125–130.

Greene CE and Appel MJ (1998) Canine distemper. In: Greene CE (ed.) Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat, 2nd edn. pp. 9–21. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.

Harder TC and Osterhaus ADME (1997) Canine distemper virus: a morbillivirus in search of new hosts? Trends in Microbiology 5: 120–124.

Krakowka S, Axthelm MK and Johnson GC (1985) Canine distemper virus. In: Olson RG, Krakowka S and Blakeslee JR (eds) Comparative Pathobiology of Viral Diseases, vol. 2, pp. 137–164. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Vandevelde M and Zurbriggen A (1995) The neurobiology of canine distemper virus infection. Veterinary Microbiology 45: 271–288.

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Harder, Timm C, and Osterhaus, Albert DME(Jul 2003) Canine Distemper Virus. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001014]