Viral cutaneous lesions are frequent in some bird populations, though we are generally ignorant of the causal agent. In some instances, they represent a threat to livestock and wildlife health. We present here a multiplex PCR which detects and distinguishes infection by two such agents, avipoxviruses and papillomaviruses, in avian hosts. We assayed biopsies and superficial skin swabs from field and preserved museum skin specimens. Ninety-three percent of samples from symptomatic specimens tested positive for the presence of avipox (n = 23) or papillomavirus (n = 5). Sixteen and five sequences, corresponding to the P4b and L1 genes, were obtained from avipox and papillomavirus, respectively. One museum specimen, of Fringilla coelebs (chaffinch), was apparently infected with both viruses. Although papillomavirus sequences proved identical to previously published sequences, four novel avipox sequences were generated and used to build a neighbor-joining phylogenetic tree. Our tree recovered a similar topology to that of several recent authors; however, we also propose here two new minor avipox clades (B1b and B3). This multiplex PCR technique shows improved sensitivity compared to other avipox and papillomavirus assays, is able to detect a wide range of avipox and papillomavirus types (it amplifies all three avian-derived papillomavirus genera described thus far and sequences from both major avipox clades), and was even able to detect ancient viral DNA contained in museum specimens of greater than 75 years antiquity for both viruses.
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Vol. 55 • No. 4