New strain of canine distemper confirmed in NH, VT

A new strain of canine distemper virus has been identified in furbearer populations in New Hampshire and Vermont, according to a release from UNH this week.


Pathologists with the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the University of New Hampshire have been working on study of CDV in multiple wildlife species for a few years. The disease may already be having an impact on populations of wild mesocarnivores in New Hampshire and greater New England, including fox and fisher.

"This strain is significantly distinct from the vaccine strains. A member of genus Morbillivirus that includes measles, canine distemper virus is highly contagious and causes severe disease in infected animals." says veterinary pathologist and assistant clinical professor David Needle.

"These animals are an integral part of the varied ecosystems of wild New Hampshire and New England, filling important niches in predator-prey relationships and pest control. Any decrease in wildlife populations is a loss to the rich wild diversity. The affected species also are furbearing mammals that serve as part of the cultural heritage of the northern sportsman." says Needle.

Licensed New Hampshire trappers were called upon to assist with acquiring carcasses from furbearers, namely fisher, for tissue study two years ago. The NH Trappers Association and professionals at both the NH Fish & Game Department and Vermont Fish & Wildlife were involved with quarterbacking tissue collection and submittal.

Over that one-year period, pathologists diagnosed canine distemper virus infection in eight fur bearers in New Hampshire and Vermont. The animals included three fisher, two gray fox, one skunk, one raccoon, and one mink; according to reports.

(Photo | NH Fish & Game)

All those animals were found to be infected with a distinct strain of CDV that had otherwise only been identified in a single raccoon, from Rhode Island in 2004. That incident was not described in any scientific publication.

The Furbearer Conservation Project has been heavily involved with reporting and updating on this ongoing study, which included the call for local trappers to assist with collection of carcasses and tissue for both the NEWDC distemper study, as well as USDA’s continued rabies surveillance projects. The full scope of our involvement can be found under our “Projects” tab.

The results of the most recent findings from Dr. Needle are presented in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation. The current research is supported by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station and the State of New Hampshire, according to UNH.

According to UNH, no virus in this distinct subgroup of canine distemper virus has yet been reported in a domesticated animal. Canine distemper virus vaccination is part of vaccine protocols  for domesticated dogs. UNH recommends all dogs should be vaccinated routinely. Professionals assert that CDV is a severe and highly contagious disease, and any suspected infection in domestic pets should be reported immediately to a veterinarian. Professionals further state that any unvaccinated animals should be vaccinated.

Furbearer Conservation will continue to monitor, report, and, when called upon, assist with continued distemper study efforts in New Hampshire. Last year, NH Fish & Game announced a project of their own involving CDV in gray foxes, which again, local trappers have been asked to continually assist with.

More information can be found on our “Projects” page, or by viewing our previous columns on the topic below.