Canine distemper epidemic in black-backed jackals in Namibia

Canine distemper virus (CDV) is highly contagious virus and has been responsible for severe population declines in both terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. Of particular concern are spill-over events of CDV from domestic dogs to threatened populations because such events have led to mass mortalities in lions and pinniped, for example. We investigated the origin of a CDV epidemic in black-backed jackals in Namibia.


Severe population declines have resulted from the spillover of canine distemper virus (CDV) into susceptible wildlife, with both domestic and wild canids being involved in the maintenance and transmission of the virus.

This study (March 2001 to October 2003) collated case data, serologic, pathologic, and molecular data to describe the spillover of CDV from domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) to black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) during an epidemic on the Namibian coast.

Antibody prevalence in jackals peaked at 74.1%, and the clinical signs and histopathologic observations closely resembled those observed in domestic dog cases. Viral RNA was isolated from the brain of a domestic dog from the outbreak area. Sequence data from the phosphoprotein (P) gene and the hemagglutinin (H) genes were used for phylogenetic analyses. The P gene sequence from the domestic dog shared 98% identity with the sequence data available for other CDV isolates of African carnivores. For the H gene, the two sequences available from the outbreak that decimated the lion population in Tanzania in 1994 were the closest match with the Namibian sample, being 94% identical across 1,122 base pairs (bp). Phylogenetic analyses based on this region clustered the Namibian sample with the CDV that is within the morbilliviruses.

This is the first description of an epidemic involving black-backed jackals in Namibia, demonstrating that this species has the capacity for rapid and large-scale dissemination of CDV. This work highlights the threat posed to endangered wildlife in Namibia by the spillover of CDV from domestic dog populations. Very few sequence data are currently available for CDV isolates from African carnivores, and this work provides the first sequence data from a Namibian CDV isolate.