In 2006–10, an epizootic of emerging avian pox occurred in Carrion Crows (Corvus corone) and Large-billed Crows (Corvus macrorhynchos), leading to mortality of juvenile crows in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. We diagnosed 27 crows with proliferative skin lesions (19 carcasses and eight biopsied cases [one in zoo captivity]) as avian pox clinically, histopathologically by detection of Avipoxvirus-specific 4b core protein (P4b) gene, and epidemiologically. The fatal cases demonstrated intensively severe infection and aggressive lesions with secondary bacterial infection. Since the first identification of avian pox in Sapporo, Japan, in 2006, the frequency of mortality events has increased, peaking in 2007–08. Mortalities have subsequently occurred in other areas, suggesting disease expansion. In Sapporo, prevalence of avian pox evaluated by field censuses during 2007–12 was 17.6% (6.6–27.2%), peaked during 2007–08 and 2008–09, and then decreased. All diseased crows were juveniles, except for one adult. The number of crows assembling in the winter roosts had been stable for >10 yr; however, it declined in 2007–08, decreased by about 50% in 2008–09, and recovered to the previous level in 2009–10, correlated with the avian pox outbreak. Thus, avian pox probably contributed to the unusual crow population decline. All P4b sequences detected in six specimens in Sapporo were identical and different from any previously reported sequences. The sequence detected in the zoo-kept crow was distinct from any reported clades, and interspecies transmission was suspected. This report demonstrates an emerging novel avian pox in the Japanese avifauna and in global populations of Carrion Crows and Large-billed Crows. Longitudinal monitoring is needed to evaluate its impact on the crow population.
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Vol. 52 • No. 2